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Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy

by Howard Margolian

Howard Margolian is well placed to reconstruct the sordid murders of Canadian POWs in the days immediately following D-Day – he has been working in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Section of the Department of Justice for most of the past decade. Margolian’s judgments in Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy, engagingly written and scrupulously researched, rely on hard facts rather than soft sentiment, though occasional splashes of that are evident too.

Setting the stage with chapters on the perpetrators, and the victims, Margolian offers a sketch of Canada’s ill-prepared military resources at war’s outbreak. Members of the Hitler Youth come across as bloodlusting, maniacal thugs led by battle-hardened veterans who converted their “Baby Division” into a “Murder Division.” Many were teenaged ethnic Germans from eastern Europe, pressed into service despite Hitler’s order for a volunteer force. The 156 Canadian victims of battlefield atrocities and wanton massacres were barbarically dispatched: the bodies of two were dragged into the main street of a town so that traffic would run over them – a shovel was used to collect the remains.

The victims came from every province. Three quarters were of British ethnic origin, a tenth aboriginal, five francophone, two Jewish, one black, one Mennonite, and one an Anglican minister. However, only one suspect, Kurt Meyer, a ruthless S.S. colonel, was tried by a Canadian military court. Other implicated senior officers were permitted to slip away, benefitting from the incompetence or indifference of Allied authorities. They returned to Germany and were rewarded with war pensions, their crimes relegated to the “unsolved” files.

Four painstaking years of investigations yielded paltry results. The Canadian record in apprehending and convicting other war and genocidal criminals has not improved in the past half century. Shamefully Canada has been a refuge for hundreds, possibly thousands, of war criminals.