Historical Illiteracy: Lessons from Canada's Nazi Applause Scandal

By Ethan Cole on
 September 27, 2023

Historical illiteracy has come to the forefront of the news cycle due to recent events in the Canadian Parliament.

In an unsuprising turn of events, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave a standing ovation to Yaroslav Hunka, a reported former member of a Nazi military division.

The incident has led to questions about historical literacy and the need for a nuanced understanding of the past, especially when it comes to the valorous actions and notable outcomes of military and first responders.

In a special session of the Canadian Parliament, Speaker of the House Anthony Rota introduced Yaroslav Hunka as a "Ukrainian hero, Canadian hero" who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.

Both Trudeau and Zelensky, along with the entire parliament, gave Hunka two standing ovations.

However, Hunka was identified as a former member of the "First Ukrainian Division in World War II," also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), a division established by Nazi Germany in 1943.

Arkadiusz Mularczyk, Secretary of State of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed concern over the incident, stating that it demonstrates a "large knowledge gap" in the West about its own history.

He emphasized the importance of historical literacy, especially concerning the atrocities committed during World War II.

Mularczyk also highlighted that Poland has not received compensation for its losses during the war and expressed hope that this incident could serve as a learning experience for Canada to become a better ally to Poland.

The incident serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of historical illiteracy.

While it is crucial to honor the dedication and service of military personnel and first responders, it is equally important to be informed about the historical context in which these individuals served.

Ignorance of historical facts can lead to unintended consequences, such as the inadvertent celebration of individuals associated with regimes that committed atrocities.

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