Last month, the Canadian Parliament hailed Nazi SS trooper Yaroslav Hunka as a “Ukrainian hero” and a “Canadian hero.” This grotesque ceremony had been enabled by the Canadian government many years before.
As “60 Minutes” explained in 1997, after World War II, Canada welcomed thousands of Nazis into Canada, including war criminals. Canada also welcomed officers of Hitler’s military, and I was to encounter one of them.
In 1963, after a move from Windsor, Ontario, I enrolled Essex District High School. The new principal was Wolfgang Egon Franke, who had been a Kapitanleutnant in the Kriegsmarine, Hitler’s navy. That was a concern for many Canadian families, particularly ours.
In 1941, my father Kenneth Billingsley was only 17 when he lied about his age to join the Canadian Army. When turned out, he signed on with the Merchant Navy and served for the duration, in constant danger from German U-boats. Now his son would have to take orders from a former Kriegsmarine officer, who looked the part.
The ramrod-stiff Franke was straight from central casting and I could picture him saying “ve vant zuh names. You haf zem, yes?” The Kapitanleutnat issued students with a “Code of Manners” that banned blue jeans and urged girls to shun makeup. The principal was fond of quoting Goethe but didn’t talk much about his own past. The details are a bit sketchy.
Wolfgang Franke was born on April 14, 1915 in Horstmar, near Dortmund. He graduated high school in 1934 and after teacher’s college joined the Kriegsmarine, which schooled him in radio and communications. No word when Wolfgang joined up, or what service he rendered during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, when Hitler and Stalin were allies. No word of what Wolfgang was doing on November 9-10 1938, when Kristallnacht went down.
No word if Franke was ever a member of the National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the National Socialist German Workers Party, also known as the NSDAP or Nazi party. It is certainly possible, and not something a former German military officer living in Canada would want to advertise. As it happens, Kriegsmarine Admiral Karl Dönitz was a devoted Nazi and Hitler’s designated successor.
According to the Globe and Mail, Franke “served in the Navy and by the end of the war was a Lieutenant Commander, in charge of radio communications in Trieste, Italy.” After the war, Franke “survived four years of hardship in a concentration camp in former communist Yugoslavia.” Just to clarify, “the Navy” was Hitler’s Kriegsmarine, and “the war” was World War II. The “concentration camps,” as other accounts noted, was a “prisoner of war camp.”
Wolfgang Franke came to Canada in 1951 but no word of any screening for wartime service that took the lives of Allied soldiers and sailors, particularly Canadians. Franke graduated from the Universities of Toronto and Ottawa, got the principal’s job at Essex High School, and moved on to college presidencies in Sarnia, Ontario, and Prince George, British Columbia. The veteran of Hitler’s Kriegsmarine died in 2007 at the age of 92, a good life in the nation he once sought to defeat.
Like many students, I never accepted Wolfgang Franke as a leader, and to this day I believe he should have stayed in Deutschland. A qualified Canadian would have been a better choice to teach the children of Canadian WWII veterans. At the time I had no clue that service to Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist regime proved no bar to advancement in Canada.
During the 1980s, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney set up the Deschênes Commission to probe Nazi war criminals living in Canada. Trouble is, the key part of the commission’s report remain off-limits to the public.
Peter Savaryn, another veteran of the Nazis’ Waffen-SS Galicia Division, became chancellor of the University of Alberta. Savaryn’s SS comrade Yaroslav Hunka gets hailed as a Canadian hero. That atrocity prompts this writer to name a few men who might qualify as heroes.
My grandfather, Lorne Henry Billingsley, served for the duration in World War I and was one of the first victims of German poison gas attack. In the Merchant Navy, my father helped keep the troops supplied, and without this service the Allies don’t win. My uncle James Richard Billingsley fought with Canada’s Eighth Reconnaissance Regiment and was wounded twice, once by a Nazi sniper.
After the Hunka affair, Uncle Jim would have had some colorful words for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and one of them would have been “resign.” Fellow soldiers in the Eighth Reconnaissance would have done likewise.
On April 12, 1945, they liberated the Westerbork transit camp in Holland, where the Nazis shipped Dutch Jews to Auschwitz and Sobibor. The 876 inmates who remained were glad to see the Canadians. If anybody thought they were heroes it would be hard to blame them.
Meanwhile, Canada has yet to be de-Nazified and German Nazism has a successor in Islamic Nazism, now killing Jews in Israel and around the world. A Hamas-Canadian Bund seems to be siding with the invaders, who target civilians of all ages. Those who oppose the invaders might heed the words of my grandfather’s fellow soldier, John McCrae:
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.