GazetteNET | 14Dec2010 | unknown

Amherst College professor a witness to war-crimes trial of Nazi John Demjanjuk

AMHERST -- The trial of accused Nazi concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk is a potential watershed moment in history, and an Amherst College scholar has a front row seat to watch it.

Amherst professor Lawrence Douglas says Demjanjuk's trial, in Munich, is likely to be the last high-profile Nazi war-crimes trial the world will witness. It may also represent the last chance for Germany, as a nation, to "get things right" when it comes to making legal redress for the crimes of the Third Reich.

[W.Z. The Holocaust Industry will always be able to find people like Lawrence Douglas to write their propaganda pieces -- always demonizing Mr. Demjanjuk and always highlighting Jewish victimization by others and never mentioning Jewish victimization of others and of Mr. Demjanjuk.]

Douglas, 51, a professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst, has been tracking the trial of Demjanjuk, a retired American auto worker deported to Germany last year, since it began in December 2009, making half a dozen trips to Munich and writing accounts of the trial for German media. He's also working on a longer piece that will be published in Harper's magazine when the case concludes.

Even given Demjanjuk's advanced age -- he's 90 -- Douglas says the case is a vital one.

"We need this trial precisely as a reminder of these crimes, the kinds of atrocities that can take place when a democracy fails to be vigilant," said Douglas, who has written extensively on how international law responds to crimes against humanity. "A trial like this allows us to maintain our vigilance, and to understand that the past is never entirely the past."

[W.Z. The Holocaust Industry "needs this trial precisely as a reminder of" who holds the real power in the world today. "A trial like this allows us to maintain our" genocidal policies against the Palestinians, in particular and our Islamic enemies, in general. No one dares question the criminal actions of the Office of Special Investigations  and of the Israeli prosecution in the trial of John Demjanjuk.]

The trial has dragged on due to Demjanjuk's health troubles and scheduling conflicts with the German court. It also follows what Douglas terms a "convoluted legal odyssey" that saw Demjanjuk sentenced to death more than 20 years ago in Israel for a different set of alleged war crimes, only to have his conviction overturned because of a case of mistaken identity.

"It really has seemed at times like a story without a conclusion, but I think the end may now be in sight," Douglas says. "And it does seem to be a moment of some kind of reckoning."

Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine whose original first name was Ivan, now faces charges for being an accessory to the murder of over 28,000 Jews in the Nazi death camp at Sobibor, Poland, where prosecutors allege he worked as a guard in 1943. He also worked as a guard at Majdanek, another Nazi death camp in occupied Poland, prosecutors say, and later at Flossenburg, a slave-labor camp in Germany where an estimated 30,000 people died.

Demjanjuk, who served with the Russian Army during World War II before being captured by German forces in 1942, insists he spent the duration of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. Prosecutors, though, have produced an array of his old identity papers, one of which shows he received training from the SS to become a camp guard. They allege it was a service for which he likely volunteered.

Douglas believes German courts have done a poor job over the years prosecuting ex-Nazis, in part because of legal decisions made in the former West Germany in the 1950s that established very narrow parameters for prosecuting people accused of crimes against humanity. Douglas, who has lived and studied in Germany -- he spent a semester last year at Humboldt University in Berlin as a visiting scholar -- said German courts "have often allowed people to walk free, people who, at least in my mind, should have been convicted."

[W.Z. German society has  failed miserably in exposing the war crimes, crimes against humanity and the genocidal policies perpetrated against the German people. And German courts have never prosecuted any of the people responsible for these crimes.]

On the other hand, he said, "Germany in many ways has worked very impressively to come to terms with its notorious history." Given that, his sense is that many Germans see Demjanjuk's trial as a means of bringing the country's legal response to the Third Reich in line with its other efforts to atone for the past, even if it's essentially a symbolic gesture.

"The official line on the trial of most German newspapers is 'better late than never,'" he said. "The idea is that even if he's 90 years old, there's no statute of limitations for crimes of atrocity, and it's good we're finally bringing this guy to justice."

Legal odyssey

The case against Demjanjuk goes back to the late 1970s, years after he immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became an auto worker in Ohio. U.S. immigration officials, tipped off in part by information they received from the former Soviet Union, said he had concealed his involvement in Nazi death camps on his immigration application. The U.S. Justice Department requested Demjanjuk be stripped of his American citizenship.

At the same time, Israeli investigators came to believe Demjanjuk was actually Ivan Marchenko, otherwise known as "Ivan the Terrible," a notoriously brutal Ukrainian guard who had worked at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. In 1986, Demjanjuk was deported to Israel, where he was tried as Ivan Marchenko and sentenced to death in 1988 for his alleged crimes at Treblinka.

But in 1991, information surfaced that showed Demjanjuk had been misidentified as Marchenko, whom Douglas says is now believed to have died in combat in the Balkans late in World War II. In fact, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 1993 that U.S. investigators had been aware of evidence that suggested Demjanjuk was not Marchenko but withheld it from his lawyers and Israeli prosecutors.

The Israeli Supreme Court overturned Demjanjuk's conviction in 1993 and took him off death row; he was returned to the United States, where his citizenship was restored in 1998. "It was a major embarrassment for the Israelis," says Douglas. "They try a guy they think is Ivan the Terrible, and he turns out to be Ivan the Not So Hot."

However, Demjanjuk's reprieve was relatively brief, as U.S. officials stripped him of his citizenship again in 2004 for concealing his service at Sobibor and Flossenburg. He was deported to Germany last year.

The twists in the case and Demjanjuk's advanced age have created some degree of misgivings in Germany about the trial, Douglas says. "I think informally, some people feel he's been through a long legal ordeal. I wouldn't call it sympathy, but there's some sense of irony that there were Germans who escaped justice over the years, and now they're trying this low-level Ukrainian guard."

Demjanjuk's trial in Germany has had some surreal moments, Douglas notes. Despite pleas from the defendant and his lawyers that he's too sick to be tried, Demjanjuk would sometimes sit this past summer "with his hands behind his head, his knees crossed, wearing sunglasses, like he was sunning himself on a beach," Douglas said. Most often, he said, Demjanjuk comes into the courtroom in a wheelchair and then is propped up in a sitting position on a hospital gurney, and he never speaks.

Douglas believes Demjanjuk and his lawyers have exaggerated his medical woes to drag out the case. At one point, he said, Demjanjuk would open and close his mouth soundlessly, his eyes closed, and at other times he'd moan. But that behavior ended sometime ago.

"Someone must have pulled him aside and said, 'That's enough with the moaning,'" Douglas said.

[W.Z. This is pure hate mongering against Mr. Demjanjuk.]

Douglas plans to return to Munich in March, when the trial is tentatively scheduled to finish, or possibly sooner. "This needs to come to a conclusion," he said.

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