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Unravelling University Megadonor Peter Jacyk's Nazi Sympathies
University of Alberta has $4 million in endowments honouring a benefactor who wanted to serve in the Waffen-SS and fundraised for an alleged death camp guard. But his influence spreads beyond U of A.
In The Progress Report, Duncan Kinney and I detailed more than $1.4 million in endowments and donations in honour of Nazi collaborators to the University of Alberta’s Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies (CIUS).
But there was a major name we left out, due to uncertainty about the extent of his connection to the Nazis — the late Toronto-based megadonor Peter Jacyk, known also as Petro Jacyk.
Established in 1986, the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation has provided millions in funds to universities worldwide, continuing after Jacyk’s 2001 death.
In 1988, Jacyk set up a $3-million endowment fund, two-thirds of which was funded by the Alberta government of Premier Don Getty, to establish the Peter Jacyk Centre for Ukrainian Historical Research at the CIUS.
Two years earlier, as Duncan and I note in our piece, Getty’s government chipped in $292,000 to establish an endowment in the name of 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS founder Volodymyr Kubijovyč and $20,000 to an endowment in the name of 14th Waffen-SS veteran Petro Malofij.
In 2009, Jacyk’s estate established the $1-million Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Modern Ukrainian History and Society Endowment Fund at the CIUS, half of which was funded by Premier Ed Stelmach’s government.
Like many rich people, Jacyk likes his name on things.
In addition to the U of A donations, there exists:
A Petro Jacyk Central and East European Resource Centre and Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine at the University of Toronto;
Petro Jacyk Bibliographer for the Ukrainian Collection at Harvard;
Petro Jacyk Ukrainian Studies Program at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute;
Petro Jacyk Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Manitoba and University of Saskatchewan;
Petro Jacyk Education Foundation Ukrainian Studies Scholarship at York University; and
Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Modern Ukrainian History and Society at Ivan Franko Lviv National University and Ukrainian Catholic University.
So who was this guy?
“Following Germany’s surrender in 1945, Peter Jacyk joined Ukrainians fleeing Soviet totalitarianism and came to Bavaria,” reads an article in the 1995 CIUS newsletter on Jacyk receiving an honorary Doctorate of Law from the U of A.
Fleeing to Germany after Germany’s defeat in the Second World War certainly suggests where one’s sympathies lie, but the question in my mind is to what extent he wilfully contributed to the Nazis’ war effort.
Since Duncan and I published our initial investigation, I was alerted to a passage in the 2013 book Leaving Home: The Remarkable Life of Peter Jacyk by John Lawrence Reynolds, which puts some ambiguity to rest.
On page 49, after describing how a Ukrainian’s decision whether to side with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union was “one of simple survival,” Reynolds writes:
Despite the appalling actions of the occupying German forces, Peter Jacyk managed to avoid much of their impact. He also made a choice between the two forces. When word of the Soviets’ success in the defence of Stalingrad (at the cost of as many as 2 million lives) was soon followed by news of a German retreat in the face of advancing Soviet forces, he approached a local office of the German occupation forces and volunteered to serve in a Ukrainian division to turn back the Soviet army.
And which division was that? The 14th Volunteer Grenadier Division of the SS, Reynolds tells us.
So there you have it, Peter Jacyk wanted to join the 14th Waffen-SS, by his otherwise unctuous biographer’s admission.
But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Jacyk, Noakes reports, helped fundraise for the family of Ukrainian-American auto worker John Demjanjuk, who was tried for war crimes in Israel in the 1980s, a trial in which he was alleged to have been the notorious guard at the Sobibor death camp, “Ivan the Terrible.”
While Demjanjuk denied having even worked at Sobibor, in 2020, researchers at Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum uncovered two photographs proving that he did.
Demjanjuk was convicted in Israel and sentenced to death in 1988, but that conviction was overturned in 1993.
In 2009, he was convicted in Germany of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews in Sobibor, but died in 2012 as his lawyers were in the midst of appealing the verdict, giving him a posthumous clean legal slate.
After Demjanjuk’s 1988 Israeli conviction, the April 19 edition of the Toronto Star quoted extraordinarily antisemitic comments from Jacyk, in which he likened Demjanjuk to Jesus Christ.
“Through the 2,000 years, Jewish people paid for that — rightly or wrongly — but they did pay for that crucifixion. I believe this will have similar results in the future for this conviction,” Jacyk said.
Given the ugly history of its namesake, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation has attempted to suppress critical discussion of the role of Ukrainian nationalists in facilitating the Shoah.
According to a chapter written by U of A historian John-Paul Himka for the 2012 collection, The Convolutions of Historical Politics, a representative of Jacyk’s foundation, wrote to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts in 2010 “expressing its displeasure” with his portrayal of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists leader Stepan Bandera as the “chief Ukrainian perpetrator” of the Holocaust.
The nationalist community’s mobilization of financial and human resources against me is something I cannot compete with. It has avoided open debate, where the playing field would be even; it does not want to confront the issues, relying instead on behind-the-scenes influence and the denigration of an individual.
While Jacyk never tried to conceal which side he was on during the Second World War, the foundation created in his name has tried to use its financial heft to muzzle a scholar raising questions that could lead to an interrogation of Jacyk’s sympathies.
Does getting rejected from the Waffen-SS and fundraising for the family of an alleged extermination camp guard make one a Nazi in the same sense as Kubijovyč or Malofij?
Depending on how you slice it, this could mean there’s now at least $5.4 million in Nazi endowments at the U of A, which would raise serious questions about the other universities who’ve received the Jacyk foundation’s beneficence.
The foundation didn’t respond to my request for comment. I’ll update this piece if they do.