Johann Dueck, a Ukrainian-born
79-year-old German Mennonite, was last
December cleared of any complicity in
atrocities in German-occupied Ukraine
during the Second World War.
The photo with this story is captioned:
"Years of persecution have finally
ended for Johann Dueck, shown here flanked
by his lawyer, Donald Bayne."
For crimes not
[Canadian] Justice Department
did its best to have Johann
Dueck deported to Ukraine for
alleged war crimes. But five years and
a million dollars in legal fees later,
a Federal Court judge concluded that
the accused was exactly what he said he
was: a simple man compelled under
threat of death to act as a translator
for Nazi thugs.by KIRK
DUECK was battling bladder cancer when the
process server showed up at his home on
May 6, 1995. The rotund 75-year-old man
had known for months he was under
investigation for war crimes. Still, he
was petrified when he propped himself up
in bed to accept his denaturalization
The accusations were sketchy. They
boiled down to this: The federal War
Crimes Unit believed he had bamboozled
Canadian immigration officials in 1948,
concealing from them his wartime role as a
whip-toting Nazi executioner.
The process server had barely exited
the Dueck home in St. Catharines, Ont.,
when reporters materialized on the front
lawn. They chased him down the street for
quotes, then returned to pound insistently
on the front door. Throughout the day,
they aimed through the back windows with
telephoto lens. Mr. Dueck's wife, Tatjana
was mortified: "I didn't believe they
could attack our house that way," she
It was barely the beginning. The
circus had come to town for a long
engagement. Federal prosecutors would not
fold their tents until two months ago,
when a Federal Court of Canada judge
systematically rejected their frail
evidence that Mr. Dueck had participated
in Nazi wartime atrocities. Judge Marc
Noel concluded that Mr. Dueck was
exactly what he had always said he was: a
simple man compelled under threat of death
to act as a translator for Nazi thugs.
Mr. Dueck's struggle to avoid being
turfed out of the country he has called
home for 50 years has had immense
repercussions. His extended family is out
the million dollars it funnelled into
defending him. His children and
grandchildren have been scarred for life.
And as recently as last week, Mr. and Mrs.
Dueck still lacked the stomach to leave
their self-imposed exile and face the
Their story may or may not be
emblematic of the half dozen
denaturalization cases currently in motion
across Canada. It
most certainly does not detract from the
Holocaust itself. In the main, it
is a story of unrelenting personal
tragedy, for Mr. Dueck didn't go through
the Holocaust. But his life has become
in a tiny Mennonite community in Ukraine
on June 23, 1919, Johann Dueck can trace
his family's ancestry back to Germany.
Because of his mixed background, Mr. Dueck
learned as a child to speak Ukrainian,
German and Russian.
As the Stalinists tightened their grip
on the countryside in the late 1920s,
middle-class landowners with strong
religious and pacifist beliefs such as the
Duecks were relentlessly hounded. The
persecution reached an apogee around 1929,
when Mr. Dueck's maternal grandfather was
exiled to a Siberian work camp. Overnight,
the remainder of the family abandoned
their farm, certain Mr. Dueck's father
would be the next to disappear.
A dozen times over the next eight
years, the elder Duecks would load young
Johann and his three sisters into a
horse-driven wagon to flee to another part
of Ukraine. Each time, they sought
sanctuary among Mennonites, usually
building a clay hut to serve as home.
"Before they got you, you move again,"
Mr. Dueck said last week, in the first and
only interview he has given since his
current prosecution began. Flanked by his
lawyers - Donald Bayne and Peter
Doody - as well as his wife and
son-in-law, Randy Gillen, Mr. Dueck
said: "If they had arrested my dad, we
would have nothing. No food."
In 1937, the family settled temporarily
in the village of Kalinovo. Mr. Dueck
worked at a brick factory and later at an
orphanage. Conscripted by the Soviet Union
in September of 1941 to fight the German
invaders, Mr. Dueck was given 10 minutes
to say goodbye to his pregnant wife,
Justina. It would be the last time he saw
The conscripts lived in boxcars until
they reached the western flank of Ukraine
six days later. They were told they would
be digging anti-tank trenches with their
bare hands. Disembarking, they were left
in a field of a couple of kilometers from
the German front with no commanders to
organize them. "We were a big herd of
people, and no food," Mr. Dueck recalls.
"You could hear the front. On the second
day, the German bombers came, and the
The conscripts scattered for their
lives. For the next three months, Mr.
Dueck and a friend journeyed 800
kilometers back to their villages. Time
and again, they blundered close to the
ever-changing frontlines or narrowly
avoided land mines. On one occasion, they
were captured by Italian soldiers,
force-marched into a field at gunpoint,
and unaccountably released.
'I never shot
anybody ... never hurt
Just before Christmas of 1941, a
bedraggled Mr. Dueck dragged himself into
Kalinovo. "No one was there," he says.
"Just a few pigs and chickens were running
around. Our house was empty, and the door
He learned from neighbouring villagers
that his parents and sisters had been sent
to Siberia. Justina was dead, having been
on a train that was bombed on route. Mr.
Dueck had lost everyone.
Unsure what to do, he hung around the
orphanage for a few weeks. Then he fell
ill and was hospitalized for a month. Soon
after his release, a German SS officer
overheard Mr. Dueck speaking German. On
learning that he also spoke Ukrainian and
Russian, Mr. Dueck says, the officer told
him he was to be an interpreter attached
to the local police.
"Remember one thing," Mr. Dueck quotes
the officer as saying. "Who is not for us,
is against us. And who is against us, we
Mr. Dueck says his services were
divided between the local gendarmerie and
the police station, and that he was never
issued a uniform or a gun. "I have never
shot anybody," he says. "I have never hurt
anybody. I was never present at any
executions. I was never aware of any
executions, except I heard of one after I
got out of the hospital." Mr. Dueck the
only drama in which he took part during
part during that period involved an
attempt by him to persuade the police not
to execute three men who had stolen
railway ties to burn in their fireplaces.
"They got 25 lashes instead of a
On April 11, 1943, Mr. Dueck remarried.
Being of German blood, he and his new
wife, Tatjana, were ordered to join in the
retreat as the Red Army swept through the
region that fall. "They took skilled
workers and anyone who was
German-speaking," says Mr. Bayne, who
became immersed in the history of the
region as he prepared to defend his
client. "They didn't want to leave behind
anyone who might be useful." Weeks later,
the couple would learn that Mrs. Dueck's
father was executed by the Russians within
hours of their taking flight.
In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Dueck
spent several days crammed together in
boxcars before arriving in Poland.
Processed from one office and bureaucracy
to another, the couple lived in fear. They
believed that, if Mr. Dueck were deemed
suitable to be given German citizenship,
he would be sent to the frontlines. If he
were not, they would both be left behind
to be executed or exiled by the advancing
As it turned out, a third fate awaited
them. They were sent to Austria, where
they worked as forced farm labourers until
the war ended. In 1948, an uncle of Mr.
Dueck's living in Saskatchewan sponsored
them as immigrants to Canada. Along with
tens of thousands of other displaced
person, they were perfunctorily screened
and approved. On Oct. 10, 1948, the Duecks
arrived by ship in Quebec City.
Some months afterward, a letter from
Ukraine found its way to Mr. Dueck's
uncle. It contained the startling news
that Justina had not died. Not only was
she alive, she had given birth to a baby
daughter in Siberia soon after the couple
were separated. But with his new family
and an Iron Curtain standing between them,
there would be no tearful reunion. "I
tried to forget," Mr. Dueck says.
He and Tatjana eventually moved to St.
Catharines to raise their son and two
daughters. Mr. Dueck worked installing
aluminum doors and windows until he
retired at 65 in 1984.
Ten years later, two RCMP war-crimes
investigators showed up at the Dueck home.
they claimed that from the spring of 1942
to mid-1943, Mr. Dueck had been a chief or
deputy chief of the Selidovka District
(Raion) Police, an auxiliary force under
the command of the German Order Police.
witnesses who would apparently say
he had participated in the executions of
three members of a Jewish family, 15 local
citizens, eight or ten prisoners and
almost 20 soldiers.
As the Mounties asked their questions,
Mrs. Dueck began to cry. "I was scared to
death," she says. "Every year was getting
better for us in Canada. Everything was
working out. Then this came. I got
confused. I felt like I was back in
Russia. It was like the KGB coming to our
house. The only difference was the KGB
never came in daytime, always at
Mr. Dueck's eyes grow moist at the
memory. "If there was a hole in the
ground, I would have fallen into it," he
says. "I've been in shock ever since."
In the months that followed, the family
withdrew. Mr. Dueck never returned to the
social club he loved. The couple ceased
going to church. "They felt they were a
burden, an embarrassment, to their
children and their church," says Mr.
Gillen, Mr. Dueck's son-in-law. "There is
no consoling that feeling. It has been
very painful to watch. Being a prisoner in
your home is a trite expression, but I got
to see the meaning of it."
Everything was directed into their
defence. The children mortgaged their
homes and emptied pension and education
funds. Meanwhile, Mr. Gillen, a corporate
lawyer, sought out Mr. Bayne, an Ottawa
lawyer with a history of becoming
passionately entwined in his cases without
allowing his involvement to cloud his
judgment in the courtroom.
The Duecks were facing a strange legal
creature. The government claimed Mr. Dueck
had committed horrible criminal acts, but
the focus of the litigation was on whether
he had lied about his "collaborationist"
past to immigration officers.
The denaturalization strategy goes back
to 1995, when the Supreme Court of Canada
ruled in the Imre Finta case that
convictions were not likely to be
forthcoming due to the frailties of
decades-old witness and non-existent
minister Allan Rock seized upon
denaturalization and deportation as a
solution. Far less proof is
required. In fact, prosecutors need
only show "on a balance of probabilities"
that a suspect entered Canada fraudulently
by failing to disclose his membership in a
Mr. Rock assured critics that no case
would go ahead without there being
evidence of criminal behaviour by the
suspect. "If it cannot be proven, no
proceedings will be considered," he told
the House of Commons.
Both government and suspect face
difficult hurdles in a denaturalization
case. Immigration files containing the
responses each immigrant gave to officials
were long ago destroyed. In their absence,
prosecutors try to convince judges it
would have been routine to ask each
applicant about their war experiences.
Ergo, the suspect must have lied to get
"Their definition of a collaborator is
so loose that you would lose half the
immigrants out of this country," Mr. Bayne
says. "And who is likely to be believed,
anyway? These bureaucrats who said they
did their jobs perfectly? Or these guys
who speak with funny accents? In reality,
these cases are being decided on a highly
technical basis that bears no relation to
whether they participated in actual war
there is no avenue of appeal after a
denaturalization decision. This means
that the Federal Court of Canada judge
who draws a particular case has
absolute power. The entire exercise,
according to Mr. Bayne, becomes
something of a crapshoot. "The question
for every family going through this is
what is their particular judge going to
find? So far, they have been going in
all different directions. They have had
to make up the rules as they go along,
and there is no unifying
As a result, judicial findings often
conflict -- such as when Judge Noël
found in the Dueck case that immigration
officers in the 1940s lacked a statutory
basis to even screen citizenship
applicants. Other judges have accepted
that there was. Mr. Bayne maintains the
judgments have one thing in common: They
consistently find there is a lack of
evidence that the suspect engaged in
actual war crimes.
But Terry Beitner, acting
director of the War Crimes Unit, says
that, since the facts of each case differ,
each ruling stands alone. (He declined to
comment on Mr. Dueck's trial pending the
outcome of a challenge to the ruling by
Mr. Beitner also says he has no
compunction about substituting a civil
process for a criminal prosecution. "There
is no principle in law that requires the
government to use criminal law where other
principles and remedies can be invoked,"
he says in defence of the unit's
The case mounted
against Mr. Dueck was based almost
entirely on civilian witnesses recalling
events of 60 years ago. Some had
been interviewed several times over the
years -- beginning with the notorious KGB.
"Everybody who got out of Ukraine was
declared a war criminal," says Mr. Bayne.
"What they were doing was getting at old
enemies of the Soviet state."
Many were interviwed more recently by
Judge Noël travelled to Ukraine to
hear the witnesses cross-examined for
the first time. He was not impressed.
"It became apparent that the evidence
of many of these witnesses was based on
pure hearsay and that no attempt had
been made up to then to test their
evidence," he recalled in his decision
Before the Ukraine trip, Mr. Bayne and
Mr. Gillen said they intuitively felt the
judge was skeptical of Mr. Dueck's case.
Then they sensed a turning point. "By the
end [of the commission evidence],
we had not heard anything that remotely
placed him at any execution site," Mr.
After a great deal of pre-trial
skirmishing, the trial finally began last
October. The director of the War Crimes
Unit, Paul Vickery, promptly rose
to inform Judge Noël that the
government would continue its attempt to
show Mr. Dueck was a collaborator who had
lied his way into Canada, but it was
dropping every allegation that Mr. Dueck
had participated in atrocities. Mr. Bayne
was flabbergasted - and he wasn't
"But isn't that the allegation?" asked
The recollection irks Mr. Bayne no
"Four years of this, and then they
stand up and casually abandon it. Hello,
that is not what you were telling us when
you went after these old men. Nobody is
holding the government to account for what
they are doing in these cases. The state
is doing these cases to win. This just
isn't fair or ethical. It is a terrible
recipe for injustice."
In the decision he released many weeks
later, Judge Noël said many witnesses
had obviously been influenced by
anti-Dueck speeches at a KGB meeting in
the late 1980s. He concluded in particular
that all four witnesses who identified Mr.
Dueck as a senior police official were not
The first, Olga Basova, was
abruptly dropped as a government witness
during the trial "because she was totally
lacking in credibility," the judge noted.
The second, Matrena Kozel, brought
forward a hopelessly contradictory
indetification of Mr. Dueck that was "a
pure function of hearsay," according to
Another -- Fedor Petriv -- had
been 12 years old when the Germans
arrived. He testified emphatically that
"everyone" knew Mr. Dueck was the deputy
chief of police, but then recoiled in
shock on being informed that his estimate
of Mr. Dueck's age was wildly off base,
and recanted. Judge Noël says he was
simply not credible.
The fourth -- Lyubov Kobelskaya
-- directly contradicted previous
statements she had made about Mr. Dueck
striking villagers with a whip and rifle
butt as he rode around in a horse cart. "I
can attribute no credibility to the
testimony of Mrs. Kobelskaya insofar as it
relates to the respondent for the benefit
of the KGB."
In contrast, Judge Noël was
impressed by Vladimir Dyachenko, a
man who lived across from the police
station during the occupation. Mr.
Dyachenko testified that he frequently saw
Mr. Dueck walking back and forth from the
gendarmarie to the police station -- in
civilian clothes and unarmed. "Not once
over the course of the occupation did he
see the respondent perform any kind of
police function," Judge Noël
Sergei Romanenko, an electrician
at a post office in the same vicinity,
echoed Mr. Dyachenko's observations.
In combination with the testimony of
other witnesses, the judge said, he had
come to an "irresistible" conclusion that
Mr. Dueck was nothing more than a
translator, and not in any sense a
voluntary member of the police.
Judge Noël then embarked on an
extensive review of the immigration
process in 1948, concluding that Mr. Dueck
would not necessarily have been asked
about his wartime activities. Even if he
were, the judge said, it is unlikely that
Mr. Dueck would have been denied entry
based on the security criteria of the day.
He said the federal government was far
more interested in rooting out Communists
than wartime collaborators, and there was
no blanket prohibition.
says he is unable to answer questions
about the decision because it would be
inappropriate until the court has ruled
on a recent challenge of Judge
Noël's ruling by a third party -
Jewish activist Kenneth
But he makes the point that death and
illness robbed the Crown of powerful
witnesses -- a circumstance Mr. Beitner
acknowledges was largely created by
decades of government inaction. "We cannot
undo the past."
Mr. Bayne agrees that four or five
potential witnesses have died in recent
years. But most he says would have turned
out to be beneficial to the defence.
Judge Noël ended his decision by
ordering the government to pay costs to
the Dueck family. the amount has not yet
been established, but the effect of this
order on the family has been inestimable.
So was the timing of the judgment, just
days before Christmas.
"I really wish I could tell him what it
meant to our family for him to write that
very difficult 150-page judgment before
Christmas," says Mr. Gillen, tears rolling
down his cheeks.
"It hurts so much, what they have done
to us," says Mrs. Dueck. "it just feels
like it still isn't over. We are not the
same people any more."
"Almost five years of this - on top of
what we went through in Russia," Mr. Dueck
adds. "Sometimes, I still wake up in the
morning and think: Is it true?"
Last year, the federal government
promised to spend $46.8-million over three
years to denaturalize and deport suspected
war criminals and human-rights violators
living in Canada. The Canadian
Jewish Congress and B'nai
B'rith Canada have watched the federal
government's campaign particularly
closely, urging the government not to
slacken its pace.
When the case against Johann Dueck was
rejected in December, CJC vice-president
Jack Silverstone reminded the War
Crimes Unit not to lose sight of the big
"We urge them to redouble their efforts
and bring as many cases foward as possible
in the short time that remains to deal
with this critical matter," Mr.
As the campaign moves into high gear,
the results are mixed.
In recent months, the government has
unequivocally won two cases -- those of
Vladimir Katriuk and Wasily
Bogutin -- while losing its
denaturalization cases against Mr. Dueck
and Peteris Vitols.
Two other men suspected of having
fraudulently obtained Canadian citizenship
have voluntarily left the country, either
because felt they could not win a legal
battle or because they lacked the
resources to fight.
Three suspects died prior to the
commencement of proceedings against them,
while three other cases have been heard by
the Federal Court of Appeal and decisions
In a 1992 case that was the precursor
to the current government strategy,
botanist Jacob Luitjens was
deported to the Netherlands for
collaborating with the Nazi occupying
Two judges are currently hearing
evidence in denaturalization proceedings
against Michael Baumgartner and