Ha'aretz | May 26, 2001

U.S. resumes effort to prove Demjanjuk's Nazi past | Reuters

CHICAGO - U.S. prosecutors will revive the alleged Nazi past of retired auto worker John Demjanjuk in a new trial starting Tuesday in an Ohio courtroom, arguing that while he may not be the sadistic death camp guard "Ivan the Terrible," he was a henchman in the "Final Solution."

Demjanjuk, who is 81 and mentally and physically frail according to his family, could be stripped of his American citizenship for the second time in 20 years and ultimately deported - possibly to an Ukrainian jail cell.

This time, he is accused of being a guard at the Sobibor, Majdanek and Flossenburg Nazi concentration camps in Poland and Germany. He is said to have been among captured Ukrainian soldiers who volunteered to be trained for the horrific duty at the Nazi's SS-run Trawniki training facility in Poland.

Prosecutors must prove he lied about his Nazi past in 1951 to obtain a U.S. visa for himself and his wife and daughter, basing their case on evidence such as a sworn statement from a now-dead Ukrainian who was a guard at the same Nazi camps.

"Our goal is deportation," said a Justice Department spokesman.

Demjanjuk, whose alibi has shifted several times over two decades of accusations, has claimed he was a conscript in the Soviet army captured by the Germans in the Crimea in 1941 who spent much of the war as a prisoner of war.

He has said he lied to avoid being returned to the Soviet Union, where he feared he would be persecuted.

It was not clear if Demjanjuk will testify at the civil proceeding to be overseen by U.S. District Judge Paul Matia in Cleveland, which could take up to four weeks. Matia will decide the case.

Prosecutors were expected to rely on evidence such as a "protocol" from fellow-Ukrainian Ignat Danilchenko, who died in Russia in 1985. He recalled "Dem'yanyuk (sic)" as an efficient death camp guard who helped round up Jews. Danilchenko cannot be cross-examined on the role of the guards in "Operation Reinhard," the Polish arm of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution" that culminated in the genocide of 6 million Jews.


When first denaturalized in 1981, Demjanjuk was identified as the vicious "Ivan the Terrible" of Treblinka and was quickly extradited to Israel where he was sentenced to hang for "crimes against humanity" in a televised trial that rivaled the sensational 1961 trial of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann.

Among the evidence was Demjanjuk's much-scrutinized Trawniki identity card, which the defense argued was a Soviet forgery, and the eyewitness testimony of a series of graying Treblinka survivors. One after another, they pointed at Demjanjuk and identified him as the cruel guard who whipped, gouged and tortured his victims before revving the engines that fed poisonous exhaust into gas chambers where 850,000 mostly Polish Jews died in just 11 months.

But documents and sworn statements from Ukrainian Nazi recruits that emerged from the dismantled Soviet Union - some made available to U.S. prosecutors before the 1981 extradition hearing - led Israel's Supreme Court to declare Demjanjuk was not "Ivan the Terrible." The Israeli High Court, in freeing Demjanjuk in 1993 after seven years in prison, said it suspected he was a camp guard and called his alibi "a lie."

"There's a feeling that everything that could be done, was done, but ultimately the case was too complicated to make it or bring it," said Moshe Fox, an Israeli embassy spokesman in Washington. He said "extradition [to Israel] was not on the table" at this time.

Ukraine also does not want Demjanjuk back, and would probably prosecute him for war crimes if he did return, a Ukrainian government source said.

After Israel freed Demjanjuk, the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations was vilified by a U.S. Appeals Court that had approved his extradition, saying prosecutors had behaved "recklessly" and perpetrated a "fraud on the court" for not disclosing that another man, Ivan Marchenko, was likely the sadistic guard.

The whereabouts of Marchenko remain unknown.

Demjanjuk is no longer talking, but his lawyer, Michael Tigar, recently said that Demjanjuk was once again the victim of mistaken identity. Tigar said Ukrainian officials recently interviewed the relative of another "Ivan" Demjanjuk born in the same village who was a Nazi guard.

Demjanjuk, meanwhile, rarely ventures out of his suburban Seven Hills, Ohio, bungalow, and is said to enjoy watching his six grandchildren play. His son-in-law, Ed Nishnic, complains that Demjanjuk has been impoverished and devastated by a persecuting U.S. government. Demjanjuk's $5 million lawsuit against the government was dismissed.