The Ukrainian delegation who met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper included Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich, the heads of the three Orthodox churches in Ukraine, leaders from evangelical and Adventist religious communities and the Muslim Mufti of Ukraine. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Canada honours Andrey Sheptytsky for saving Jews

By 
  • April 26, 2012

OTTAWA - As religious leaders from Ukraine sat in the gallery, the House of Commons passed unanimously on April 24 a motion honouring Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky for his courageous efforts to save Jews during the Second World War.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's motion said Sheptytsky, who headed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1900 until his death in 1944, courageously spoke out against violence against Jews and sheltered and saved the lives of more than 160 Ukrainian Jews, many of them children.

"This House is united in expressing Canada's recognition of Andrey Sheptytsky's courageous actions, compassion for his oppressed Jewish Ukrainian countrymen and enduring example of commitment to fundamental human rights as humankind's highest obligation," the motion said.

In the gallery was a man who owes his life to Sheptytsky. Dr. Leon Chameides, a retired pediatric cardiologist now living in Hartford, Conn., told CCN he and his older brother were put under Sheptytsky's care when he was seven and his brother was almost 10. The brothers were separated so as to make it less likely they would give each other away, and they were hidden among Ukrainian orphans, taught Christian prayers and the Ukrainian language, he said. They never undressed or bathed around the other children to protect their identities. The Nazis often came around the monastery to inspect, looking for Jews.

The rest of his family died during the Nazi occupation, Chameides said. His brother now lives in Australia.

Though Sheptytsky directly saved more than 160 people, including the then chief rabbi of Ukraine who hid behind the books in the Metropolitan's library, Chameides said he led by example, prompting others to shelter Jews.

The Ukrainian delegation included Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich, the heads of the three Orthodox churches in Ukraine, leaders from evangelical and Adventist religious communities and the Muslim Mufti of Ukraine. The delegation met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper following the passage of the motion.

"We represent millions of individuals who in their worst moments — like all humans — might bow to hatred or intolerance," Shevchuk said. "But our Ukrainian delegation is here together today — and most importantly in Ukraine — to insist that we, their leaders reject such attitudes."

The 20 or so religious leaders represent 95 per cent of Ukraine's religious believers, said Bleich, making it "the most powerful NGO in the country."

"Today we have a thriving religious community in Ukraine," the rabbi said, noting the Communists had tried to destroy and uproot religious faith.

The memory of Sheptytsky has been the inspiration and unifying force for the council of religious leaders, he said.

"We're not only honouring the person but what his life stood for. When a person is willing to go through self-sacrifice, that's something that is holy for all mankind."

The delegation, including scholars, was brought to Canada by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter (UJE), a multinational group founded in 2008 to seek healing of the past, the development of a cultural record and the forging of new relationships.

The UJE sponsored a symposium of scholars at Ottawa's Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Christian Studies at Saint Paul University April 25 on the subject "Ethical action in extreme conditions."

The UJE screened part of a documentary featuring interviews with Jews who were sheltered by Sheptytsky, with many arguing he should be listed as a Righteous Among the Nations at Israel's Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem.

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