Judge in Demjanjuk case wants transcripts

Cleveland Plain Dealer | February 16, 2001


A federal judge in Cleveland has ordered John Demjanjuk's lawyer in Israel to disclose the contents of a secret interview with an aging World War II concentration camp guard.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul R. Matia puts him in direct conflict with Israeli authorities, who last fall quashed a Justice Department attempt to retrieve transcripts of the interview in Tel Aviv.

Matia said the documents are important because "they may contain information as to the identity and activities of [Demjanjuk] during World War II."

The guard, Nikolai P. Malagon, told Soviet authorities in the late 1970s that he had fleeting memories of a "Demedyuk or Demanyuk" who once worked as a cook at the Treblinka death camp.

That information helped clear Demjanjuk, a retired Seven Hills autoworker, of charges he was "Ivan the Terrible" who ran the gas chamber where up to 900,000 Jews were slaughtered.

But federal prosecutors with the Office of Special Investigations, a unit created to track down Nazi collaborators who slipped into the United States, now suspect Malagon gave the Israeli lawyer additional information that is damaging to Demjanjuk. The prosecutors say it may reveal what Demjanjuk actually did during the war.

Demjanjuk says he was a prisoner of war who never took part in Hitler's effort to exterminate Europe's Jewish population.

A trial aimed at stripping Demjanjuk of U.S. citizenship is set to start May 29 in Cleveland federal court.

Israeli judges have already ruled that defense lawyer Yoram Sheftel does not have to reveal anything about his meeting with the concentration camp guard because it is protected by that nation's attorney-client privilege.

Matia disagrees.

He said Sheftel's interview could show the former concentration camp guard identified Demjanjuk as a member of the Nazi-trained squads that spread terror across German-occupied Poland.

"Interviews of former guards are not protected by the attorney-client privilege because they do not involve the providing of legal advice," Matia said.

He said Demjanjuk has until mid-March to "produce the requested documents and information or make a good-faith effort to obtain them from Yoram Sheftel."

Demjanjuk's American lawyer, Michael E. Tigar, this week filed motions asking the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn Matia's ruling. No hearing has yet been set.

Tigar said Matia's ruling is wrong because it "refuses to recognize a foreign judgment in a case brought by the United States."