The University of Alberta’s $1.4 million-dollar Nazi problem

On Sept. 26, University of Alberta VP Verna Yiu announced that a $30,000 endowment for the school’s Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) in the name of Yaroslav Hunka, the Waffen-SS veteran who earned international infamy after he received two standing ovations in Canadian Parliament, would be returned to his family. 

The school also committed to reviewing its naming policies to avoid similar embarrassments in the future. 

The University of Alberta’s Nazi veteran donor problem runs far deeper than a $30,000 donation in Hunka’s name. The U of A has far deeper ties to Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, with endowments and donations in their names worth well over $1.4 million.

CIUS co-founder Peter Savaryn, who served as U of A’s chancellor from 1982 to 1986, was himself a veteran of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS—the same division as Hunka, which was also known as the Galicia Division and recast as the First Ukrainian Division after the war.

In the Ukrainian language version of Peter Savaryn’s memoirs he expresses pride in his Waffen-SS past; that pride was omitted from his biography in the English language Encyclopedia of Ukraine. After being resettled here Savaryn attained significant political influence in Alberta: he was president of Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and vice-president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and received the Order of Canada upon his retirement from U of A in 1987. 

In response to a request for comment from the Progress Report, Governor General Mary Simon’s office expressed “deep regret” for Savaryn’s appointment to the Order of Canada, but added that no mechanism exists to retroactively revoke the appointment of a deceased person. Savaryn died in 2017. 

“Historical appointments to the Order of Canada reflect a specific moment in time and would have been based on limited information sources available at that time,” Simon’s office noted. “We recognize that some information might be brought to light after the appointment process is complete.” 

Savaryn also received the Golden Jubilee (2002) and Diamond Jubilee (2012) awards, which are under examination by the Governor General’s office. 

In 1996, the Toronto-based Canadian Foundation for Ukrainian Studies established the $10,000 Peter and Olya Savaryn Award, half of which was funded by Savaryn himself, “to support a range of scholarly and educational projects at CIUS,” according to the foundation. 

 “Close them all.”

The “Support CIUS” page on the CIUS website, where endowments are listed, has been down since the Hunka endowment was returned, but is still available via Internet Archive

By examining this list and old issues of the annual CIUS newsletter, with assistance from concerned scholars and the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU), the Progress Report was able to identify an additional $1,424,700 in endowments and donations dedicated to 11 Waffen-SS veterans and one member of the Nazi-collaborationist Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The Alberta government under Premier Don Getty contributed the bulk of funds for two of these endowments in 1986. 

An Oct. 3 UASU news release called on the university to return all endowments associated with the Waffen-SS, publicly account for its history of accepting donations from Nazi fighters, conduct a review of remaining endowments and “meaningfully apologize for how its fundraising and memorial practices have contributed to obscuring history.”

“If the university is willing to close one memorial for a 14th Waffen-SS soldier as a matter of principle, it should be willing to close them all,” UASU president Christian Fotang said. 

A day earlier, U of A political scientist Laurie Adkin penned a letter to administration, noting that “there were much earlier revelations that should have caused the university to investigate the CIUS’s funding and activities.” 

Adkin cited scholarship by colleagues John-Paul Himka, Karyn Ball and David Marples, as well as U of A alumnus Per Anders Rudling, into the “obfuscation of the history of the Holocaust” by Ukrainian nationalist organizations, who in turn attempted to delegitimize their work. 

In a statement to The Progress Report, U of A spokesperson Mike Brown suggested a review of existing endowments is underway. 

“These types of reviews take time and diligence. We will not be disclosing further details while these processes are ongoing,” Brown said. 

In November 1986, a year after his death, Volodymyr Kubijovyč’s estate created an $146,000 endowment in his name, which became worth more than $438,000 after the Government of Alberta under Premier Don Getty matched the original funds two-to-one. 

Kubijovyč was an infamous Nazi collaborator, a founder of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS as head of the Nazis’ Ukrainian Central Committee. In a 2012 paper in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Rudling, now a historian at Lund University in Sweden, describes Kubijovyč as “an enthusiastic proponent of ethnic cleansing” who wanted to establish an independent Ukraine without Jews or Poles. 

“The formation of the Galician-Ukrainian division within the framework of the SS, is for us not only a distinction, but our responsibility that we will continue to [support] and maintain this active decision, in cooperation with the German state organizations, until the victorious end of the war,” Kubijovyč said on April 28, 1943, the day the division was formally established.

“This historic day was made possible by the conditions to create a worthy opportunity for the Ukrainians of Galicia, to fight arm in arm with the heroic German soldiers of the Army and the Waffen-SS against Bolshevism, your and our deadly enemy. We thank you from our heart. Of course we ought to thank the Great Führer of the united Europe for recognizing our participation in the war, that he approved your initiative and agreed to the creation of the Galicia division.”

After the war, Kubijovyč edited the first two volumes of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, which downplayed the Galicia Division’s Nazi ties. His family’s endowment was specifically for the purpose of completing the encyclopedia’s translation into English. 

When Rudling and fellow historian Tyrik Cyril Amar questioned the propriety of Kubijovyč’s endowment in a 2015 article for History News Network, CIUS director Volodymyr Kravchenko accused them of “assaulting the dead” and “mudslinging … to conduct an information war in which the opponent is not convinced but destroyed.”

Kubijovyč was also pictured with Peter Savaryn on the cover of the 1976 book, The Politics of Multiculturalism by Manoly Lupul. The photo is of the signing of a contract between the CIUS and the Shevchenko Scientific Society of Europe to collaborate on the Encyclopedia of Ukraine

Left image: Peter Savaryn (left standing) and Volodymyr Kubijovyč (center sitting) pictured here at the 1976 contract signing between the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and Shevchenko Scientific Society of Europe to collaborate on the Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Right image: Volodymyr Kubijovyč (circled in red) gives a Nazi salute at the 14th Waffen-SS recruitment ceremony in 1943. 

More Nazi collaborator endowments and donations

A month after Kubijovyč’s endowment opened, 14th Waffen-SS veteran Petro Malofij, at the time anonymously, established an endowment in the name of his deceased niece Marusia Onyshchuk and nephew Ivanko Kharuk, with Malofij donating $10,000 and the Government of Alberta donating $20,000. That endowment, which is now in Malofij’s name, is worth $150,000. It provides funding for students in Ukraine’s Sniatyn district to study at Chernivtsi Fedkovych National University. 

A $74,000 endowment in memory of 14th Waffen-SS veteran Nestor Peczeniuk was donated by his family in December 1991, which provides research grants for Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian studies. The endowment is now worth $87,000. 

In December 1998, a $50,000 endowment was established in the name of Dmytro Kupiak, who from 1943 to 1945 fought for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the military wing of Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) faction, which massacred anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 Poles as well as thousands of Jews, Roma and other Ukrainians. The endowment provides scholarships for high school graduates in Busk, Ukraine, to study at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv.

Nicknamed “Klei,” Kupiak was an UPA commander, whom the Soviet Union attempted to have extradited in 1964 for allegedly massacring 200 people in a village near Lviv, according to an Oct. 20, 1971 Globe and Mail article. Kupiak ran for the federal Tories in the 1972 election. 

The same month the Kupiak endowment was announced, Sylvester Remeza, who fought with the 14th Waffen-SS in the disastrous 1944 Battle of Brody, donated $100,000 to establish the Remeza Family Endowment Fund to support research and publication related to the work of Ukrainian poet and writer Bohdan Lepky.

The Celestin and Irena Suchowersky Endowment Fund was established by Celestin in September 1999 with $50,000 to fund MA and PhD students from Ukraine’s Bukovyna region studying in Canada. It’s now worth $100,000. Rudling told the Report that Celestin Suchowersky was an OUN member who partook in the negotiations that created the 14th Waffen-SS. 

The 2003 CIUS newsletter acknowledges a $20,000 donation from the Rev. Marian and Dr. Roman Curkowskyj Foundation to assist in publishing an Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine based on the original Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Dr. Curkowskyj was drafted as a medic in the German Army in 1945, but upon his insistence was transferred to the 14th Waffen “to fight the Soviet Red Army and liberate his homeland,” according to the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation.

Roman Kolisnyk, who had had the title of untersturmführer in the 14th Waffen-SS and edited a magazine for its veterans, established a $15,000 endowment for translating Ukrainian language texts into English and French in March 2011. By the end of September 2023, the endowment’s value had grown to $101,000. 

In July 2011, Levko Babij’s family donated $50,000 in his and his wife’s memories for study of Ukrainian history during the Second World War. Babij ran the Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1st UD UNA (another name for the 14th Waffen-SS) from 1986 until his 2010 death. The CIUS news release announcing the endowment acknowledges his Galicia Division service. 

Babij was, Ukrainian historian Olesya Khromeychuk notes in her 2013 book ‘Undetermined’Ukrainians: Post-War Narratives of the Waffen-SS ‘Galicia’ Division, one of 1,000 Galicia Division volunteers who served in the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which was notorious for its anti-semitic campaigns. 

According to the 2011 CIUS newsletter, the estate of Galicia Division veteran Edward Brodacky, who died in 2008, donated $200,000 to the Hrushevsky Translation Project, which ironically helped finance the translation of socialist historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky’s seven-volume History of Ukraine-Rus—a major CIUS initiative alongside the stridently nationalist Encyclopedia of Ukraine. 

The $28,700 Michael and Mary Yacyshyn Endowment Fund was created in September 2013. Michael Yacyshyn, who died in 1994, is described in the 2014 CIUS newsletter as having “fought for Ukrainian independence” during the Second World War. He was a member of Babij’s 14th Waffen-SS veterans group. 

In March 2016, a $100,000 endowment was established by the estate of Dr. Demitrius Todosijczuk in his honour to fund CIUS scholarships, awards or bursaries, research grants, and scholarly publications. Todosijczuk, according to Rudling, joined the Waffen-SS in July 1943, leaving to conduct his medical studies in Giessen, Germany, in March 1944. 

Waffen-SS atrocities

Despite numerous attempts to frame the 14th Waffen-SS as people who were forced into making tough decisions, it’s important to clarify what exactly service in the unit meant.

The volunteers all pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler to the death. Heinrich Himmler served as the ultimate commanding officer of the unit while the officers who led the unit were directly involved in the Holocaust and atrocities against Belarusian and Ukrainian civilians. One of the commanding officers was Ukrainian-born Volksdeutsche SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Wiens. Before joining the 14th Waffen-SS he had served with Einsatzgruppen D, which massacred Jews, Communists and partisans in occupied eastern Ukraine, and Wiens personally took part in mass executions.

The 14th Waffen-SS also worked alongside one of the most well-known and brutal SS divisions, the SS-Sonderbattalion Direlwanger, more commonly known as the Dirlewanger Brigade. This unit filled its ranks with rapists, murderers and the criminally insane. According to Rudling officers transferred between the two units and they cooperated the most in putting down rebels and partisans in Slovakia. 

The 14th Waffen-SS was not a regular army division fighting on the front lines; it was primarily a police battalion and massacring civilians, partisans and people found to be disloyal to the Third Reich was its primary job. As documented by Australian academic Terrence Goldworthy, Himmler ordered the 14th Waffen-SS to eliminate Polish resistance in the Chelm area in 1944. At the conclusion of these operations the unit had hanged, tortured, beat, burned, gassed and shot around 1500 women, children and men. 

The 14th Waffen-SS were also involved in helping German units guard the concentration camp at Szebnie, shooting Soviet prisoners of war at the same concentration camp (by that time the Jews had all been killed) and the liquidation of Poles, Roma, and Jews in the towns of Moderowka and Huta Pienacka

In June 1944 the 14th Waffen-SS conducted an extended campaign against Josip Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia and claimed to have killed more than 8000 people. However the unit only located 19 machine guns and 825 rifles. “The only conclusion can be that the majority of dead were in fact innocent civilians,” says Goldworthy.

Monument to the people slaughtered by the 14th Waffen-SS at Huta Pienacka. Image via Stako - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

What to do with all the money?

The situation for universities, especially U of A, has only gotten bleaker after four years of UCP rule. From 2019/2020 to 2021/22, U of A lost 20 per cent of its grant funding

However, UASU president Fotang told The Progress Report, the tainted CIUS endowments represent a miniscule fraction of the university’s assets. In turn, only a small percentage of endowment funds are spent on their intended purpose annually, with the rest combined in the University Endowment Pool to accumulate interest as long-term investments. 

According to the U of A’s 2023 investment report, the university has $1.73 billion in endowment funds. Just $60 million of these funds went towards scholarship, faculty and research, in the 2022/23 school year, equalling 3.5 per cent of total endowment assets. 

“An institution this size, with how much its endowment assets are, has the means to fill that gap … while they go on and search for other possibilities and create new funds,” Fotang said. 

Karyn Ball, a U of A English and Film Studies professor who specializes in representations of the Holocaust, told The Progress Report that the issue of the university accepting Nazi collaborator money dates back to the CIUS’s very inception, emphasizing 14th Waffen-SS veteran Savaryn’s role in its foundation. 

“It’s almost as if it was founded for the purpose of whitewashing crimes of the members of the Waffen-SS, making them seem like heroes and freedom fighters,” she said. 

“They’ve been doing this for decades. It doesn’t matter what the financial straits of the university have been.” 

Rather than return the donations to those who donated them in the name of Nazi collaborators, Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies director of allyship and community engagement Dan Panneton suggests those funds be re-allocated elsewhere within the university. 

“Those funds should be redirected towards Jewish studies, Holocaust studies and perhaps even investigations into the topic at hand,” Panneton told Global News.

Ball says the university should go further. “They should dismantle the CIUS because it’s a toxic and corrupt unit,” she said, cautioning that some of the CIUS endowment funds are almost certainly already spent.

“If there is any money to give back, they should put it into a fund for studying memory politics. That would involve talking about things like this—how memories are contested and perpetrators are often very self-interested in whitewashing their crimes, and their families are too.”