Justice targets Demjanjuk, 81, again

Jerry Seper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES | Published 2001/05/29

The Justice Department, stung over its misidentification of retired auto worker John Demjanjuk as the sadistic Nazi prison guard "Ivan the Terrible," will try again to revoke his citizenship in a trial scheduled to begin today.

Mr. Demjanjuk, who lives in a Cleveland suburb, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 when an Ohio judge ruled that he was the Nazi guard who ran the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp in Poland, where U.S. authorities say 850,000 Jews were killed.

The 81-year-old former auto plant worker denied being a guard at Treblinka and argued that his identification by camp survivors was a mistake. He told the court he was captured by German soldiers in 1942 and sent to a series of prison camps, where he said he was forced to work.

But he was extradited to Israel in 1986 based on evidence provided by the Justice Department and its Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He was found guilty in a trial two years later of crimes against humanity, Israel's only capital offense, and sentenced to death.

Mr. Demjanjuk's appeal was heard by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1992. The high court heard evidence in the case that cast doubt on Justice Department claims that Mr. Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible, as alleged in the indictment. The court overturned the conviction in 1993, saying that while there was evidence that Mr. Demjanjuk had been at various other camps, he had not been at Treblinka as charged. The court also noted that much of the evidence against him came from fraudulent KGB documents.

A native of Ukraine, Mr. Demjanjuk later was released and returned to Ohio, where his citizenship was restored in 1998.

U.S. District Judge Paul Matia in Cleveland, who will hear the case, denied a motion last week by Mr. Demjanjuk's Washington attorney, Michael Tigar, to delay the trial. Mr. Tigar told the judge he needed a three-month postponement to review documents in the case, which he said had been given to him by the Justice Department at the last minute, were decades old and were written in foreign languages.

In court documents, Mr. Tigar said he also wanted time to review information given by Ukrainian officials who said they had interviewed a relative of a dead man known as Ivan Demjanjuk. He said there was a "real risk" his client had again been the victim of mistaken identify.

The new charges were filed by the OSI in 1999, accusing Mr. Demjanjuk of being a guard at several death or forced labor camps other than Treblinka including the Sobibor extermination camp and the Majdanek and Flossenburg concentration camps. He also is accused of being a member of the Nazi SS "Trawniki" unit that sought to annihilate European Jews. The government will seek to prove that he lied on his application for U.S. citizenship, forcing his deportation.

Prosecutors will allege that Mr. Demjanjuk was a guard at Sobibor, where 200,000 people died; a guard at the Trawniki unit, where Polish Jews were killed during mass shootings or with poison gas; a guard at Majdanek camp in Poland, where between 200,000 and 360,000 prisoners died; and an SS guard at the Flossenburg camp, where 30,000 prisoners died.

The Demjanjuk case, which began 24 years ago, is the longest-running attempt by the U.S. government to revoke the citizenship of a suspected Nazi.

In 1994, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found that Justice Department lawyers mishandled the original case against Mr. Demjanjuk and fraudulently deceived both the courts and the defense team when they accused him of being Ivan the Terrible. The appeals court said OSI prosecutors committed "prosecutorial misconduct that constituted fraud" in pursuing the case.

The appeals court panel said OSI did not disclose statements given to Soviet Union officials by two former Treblinka guards, who identified another man, Ivan Marchenko, as Ivan the Terrible. Likewise, it said OSI failed to reveal a list of guards furnished by the Polish government that listed Mr. Marchenko's name but not Mr. Demjanjuk's.