Toronto Star | 06Dec2009 | Lynda Hurst

Last chance for Holocaust justice?
The trial of an aging former Nazi guard is delayed due to failing health. Is it time to call off the hunt?

Is this the last Nazi war crimes trial?

[O.S. Star's Holocaust Industry infomercial.]

As the clock ticks down on the life span of suspects, that may be an obvious question. But the answer is anything but.

The trial of 89-year-old John Demjanjuk -- charged with participating in the murder of 27,900 Jews in 1943 -- was halted three days after it started last week in Munich.

The Ukraine-born former Ohio autoworker is accused of being a guard at Sobibor, a Nazi death camp in Poland where most victims perished within an hour of arriving by train, pushed by guards into carbon monoxide-filled gas chambers.

Demjanjuk arrived in court variously by wheelchair, stretcher and hospital bed and by Wednesday, had developed an infection. The case was adjourned, tentatively until Dec. 21, 2009.

His family says he's terminally ill. Court doctors say he is frail, has a bone marrow disease and heart murmur, but is fit to stand trial. Appalled Jewish observers say he's faking or exaggerating his weakness to portray himself as a victim.

"Listen, seeing him there in court, he belonged to Hollywood, not Sobibor, so great was the act he put on," said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the world's leading Nazi hunter.

Demjanjuk is the lowest-ranked person ever to be tried for war crimes. The case, both for and against him, is complex and ultimately may hinge on the statement of a dead man.

Drafted by the Soviet Red Army in 1941 and taken prisoner by the Nazis in 1942, Demjanjuk has admitted being an SS guard from 1944 on -- but at other camps, not Sobibor. And there are no living witnesses to place him there.

[W.Z. This is disinformation by Ms. Hurst! Mr. Demjanjuk has NEVER "admitted being an SS guard.]

There were the last time he was tried, when he was accused by Israel of being Ivan the Terrible, a notoriously sadistic guard who operated the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp.

At the widely covered trial in 1988, five survivors identified him as Ivan. Convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to death by hanging. But Israel's Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1993, after evidence emerged casting doubt that Demjanjuk was the brutal Ivan.

After that shocking twist, the distinguished Holocaust documenter Gitta Sereny wrote that Nazi war-crimes cases should cease and the survivors "be allowed to rest." As for the suspects:

"Every man who was guilty of foul deeds in that war, and in wars since, must be in no doubt, until the day he dies, that the whole world knows, and deplores, what was done."

The plea came too soon. When Demjanjuk returned home, U.S. government investigators immediately began working on a second set of charges involving Sobibor, which resulted in his extradition to a German prison, in May of this year.

Remaining ex-Nazis will be as aged and possibly as infirm (to whatever degree) as Demjanjuk. Witnesses to their actions have died. Is it time now, as others besides Sereny argue, to call off the hunt for individuals? Or, while there's breath still in their bodies, should the chase continue?

There is no choice, says Avi Benlolo, president of the Toronto Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. "We must pursue these people no matter how elderly or frail. Our job is to bring them to justice."

German prosecutors say Demjanjuk volunteered to be a guard and simply holding that job in a death camp meant he took part in the gassing.

Though Demjanjuk denies the authenticity of a key piece of evidence -- a photo ID identifying him as a Sobibor guard -- U.S. and German experts say it is genuine.

Other potentially damning evidence may come from statements made by a now-dead Ukrainian, Ignat Danilchenko, who also was captured by the Red Army, then a prisoner of the Nazis. In 1949, he told a Soviet war crimes trial he'd been with Demjanjuk at Sobibor in 1943 and "like all guards in the camp, Demjanjuk participated in the mass killing of Jews." U.S. investigators, however, have said his statements contain numerous factual errors.

Demjanjuk's defence argues he was a small cog in the Nazi death machine and that other, more senior workers have escaped retribution. On the first day in court, they said they'll rely on a 1976 West German trial in which the commandant of a guard-training camp was acquitted.

Lawyer Ulrich Busch filed a motion saying the case should never have been brought to trial, given this precedent. "How can you say that the order-givers were innocent ... and the one who received the orders is guilty?" he asked. "There is a moral and legal double standard being applied today."

The implication? Demjanjuk's prosecution is more akin to persecution, doubly so because of his age and physical state.

As time runs out, those factors will increasingly take centre stage in any reckoning to come.

This fall, a Spanish judge indicted three former death camp guards -- one in Austria, two in the U.S. -- with crimes against humanity. The Americans are "both mentally and physically incompetent," says their lawyer.

"It's up to the courts to decide on competence," counters Benlolo.

"For us, it's the process that's important, the precedent it sets for other war criminals, in Bosnia and Rwanda, and in the future. They should have a fear of being hunted down no matter how long it takes."

No, Demjanjuk's won't be the last trial, he says. "But there aren't many left."

This fall, three other men on the Wiesenthal Centre's 10 most-wanted list have been brought into the legal system:

Heinrich Boere, 88, leader of a Dutch SS death squad, is on trial in Aachen, Germany;

Charles Zentai, 88, an ex-Hungarian soldier accused of beating an 18-year-old Jew to death, is fighting extradition to Germany from Australia;

Sandor Kepiro, a 95-year-old Hungarian accused of taking part in the 1942 Novi Sad massacre of 1,300 Jews, Serbs and Roma, was questioned in September by Budapest prosecutors.

Since 2001, there have been 82 successful prosecutions of war criminals, Nazi-hunter Zuroff said last month, but 702 cases are still on file and will be pursued: "I expect to continue my work for another three or four years, by which time the last of the war criminals will be gone."

The Wiesenthal Centre is still running its Operation Last Chance, begun in 2002, offering up to $26,000 for information leading to suspects still in hiding.

Germany is just as eager to continue. Last week, chief war crimes prosecutor Kurt Schrimm said his team had stumbled on archives identifying several hundred Germans who went to Brazil in the 1950s and may be linked to the Holocaust. Schrimm plans to follow up on the lead in the spring.

"As long as there's a possibility that these people are alive," he said, "we'll continue our work."

When the Demjanjuk trial resumes, five relatives of some of the 250,000 Jews who died at Sobibor are to make statements. Camp survivor Thomas Blatt, who doesn't remember Demjanjuk being there, will testify about his experience.

But what Blatt really wants is for Demjanjuk to speak: "There is no price he could pay that would come close to his guilt. The victims are dying out, the murderers are dying out. In 10 years it will all only be history. I just want to hear the truth"

The only time Demjanjuk spoke in court last week was to mumble a prayer in Ukrainian.

He never opened his eyes once. [W.Z. This is simply not true.]

Selected Comment:

A life ruined by Nazi hunt
The April 13, 1983 issue of the Toronto Star included a profile by Dick Chapman of the case of Frank Walus. Under the header "A life ruined by Nazi hunt," it described a gross miscarriage of justice spurred by a rush to judgment as prosecutors, led by Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, overlooked multiple red flags which collectively confirmed Walus could not have been the Nazi war criminal they alleged. Chapman: "Wiesenthal, Israeli police, the U.S. justice system and the media had the wrong man." Chapman quoted Walus as he summed up the absurdity of the case against him: "I was 16 or 17 years old at the time I was supposed to be a top-ranking SS officer. How could you attain that rank at such an early age?" No further comment.

Toronto Star | 10Dec2009 | Len Rudner

Lawyer's strategy is 'shameful'

Re:Last chance for Holocaust justice?  Toronto Star, 06Dec2009

The implication that the trial of John Demjanjuk represents a form of persecution rather than prosecution is an affront to both the victims of Nazism as well as its survivors. Demjanjuk's lawyer, Ulrich Busch, may find it useful to cast aspersions upon the proceedings and thereby gain sympathy for his client, but it is a shameful strategy.

We commend the dedication of the German authorities on this matter as they pursue justice against the persecutors, on behalf of the persecuted.

Len Rudner, Regional Director – Ontario, Canadian Jewish Congress

[W.Z. Len Rudner initiated the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commision (CHRC) against Dr. Lubomyr Prytulak and his website.  Later, he was replaced by the Canadian Jewish Congress as the complainant, which refused mediation such that the CHRC forwarded the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). Before closing down his UKAR website in disgust, Dr. Prytulak had disclosed the criminality of the CHRC personnel involved in his case. There are increasing calls within Canada to have the CHRC disbanded.]