Ormstown, Quebec – Propped up by a shovel that acts as his cane, Vladimir Katriuk putters about his wooded lot in rural Quebec, lovingly caring for his bees and appearing to have few worries other than this season’s honey yield.
But a prominent Jewish human-rights organization insists there’s much more to the cordial 91-year-old beekeeper — whom they allege is of the world’s most-wanted Nazi war criminals.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently ranked Katriuk No. 4 on its top-10 list of suspected former Nazis, after a new study alleged he was a key participant in a village massacre during the Second World War.
An academic article alleged that, in 1943, a man with his name lay in wait outside a barn that had been set ablaze, operating a stationary machine gun and firing on civilians as they tried to escape. The same article said the man took a watch, bracelet and gun from the body of a woman found nearby.
Katriuk spoke with The Canadian Press this week at his small farm in Ormstown, just under an hour’s drive from Montreal.
He has denied any involvement in war crimes in the past. This week he repeatedly refused to discuss anything about himself — other than his passion: the honey bees.
“I have nothing to say,” Katriuk said of the accusations, after putting down a beekeeper’s smoker and replacing a mesh veil for a floppy ball cap.
“When we talk about bees, that’s different. When we talk about my own affairs, that’s something else. I’m sorry.”
Asked how he felt about having his name on the list of worst surviving Nazis, Katriuk paused. He reached into a box and pulled out a piece of a beehive: “You see?” he said. “Here they have started to make the royal cell (for a queen bee).”
The otherwise chatty Ukrainian-Canadian, who moved to Canada in 1951, claimed he wasn’t aware his name was added to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list.
When pressed again about the allegations, he replied: “Let people talk.”
Katriuk has faced accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator before, but this week Katriuk seemed fixated only on his bees, and their well-being.
He even rushed to one bee’s defence.
“Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move,” Katriuk shouted at a news photographer who tried to swat a bee that had landed on his lapel.
“Stay still and that’s it.”