Cleveland Jewish News | 09Jul2010 | Marilyn H. Karfeld

Serving justice at Demjanjuk’s Munich trial

After more than 30 years fighting charges that he was a Nazi concentration camp guard, John Demjanjuk is now standing trial in Munich on 28,060 accessory-to-murder counts. All charges stem, German prosecutors say, from his service in 1943 as a guard at Sobibor death camp.

[W.Z.  It is amazing how the Jewish press can keep repeating that Mr. Demjanjuk is guilty of something despite mounting evidence that his persecuters are guilty of deceit on a massive scale -- from the prosecutorial misconduct of the OSI, suborning perjury by Norman Moscowitz, fraudulent testimony of many expert witnesses for the prosecution including Larry Stewart. They never mention the overwhelming evidence that the so-called Trawniki ID card as well other such cards are not valid documents. See XoXoL and MoZeus.]

Since his highly publicized deportation from Cleveland in May 2009, Demjanjuk’s case has dropped off the front page of most newspapers and websites. But to many Clevelanders, particularly Jewish ones, the trial still commands attention.

“The people of Germany are finally speaking publicly about the Holocaust and the horrors that happened there,” says Cleveland immigration attorney David Leopold.

Demjanjuk’s trial, which began Nov. 30, 2009, demonstrates that the “Germans are willing to face the past and learn from it,” adds Leopold, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

While some Cleveland residents dismiss Demjanjuk’s complicity in war crimes, in 2002 U.S. District Court Judge Paul Matia found that he participated in the death and persecution of thousands of Jews while a Nazi guard at Flossenburg, Majdanek and Sobibor concentration camps, Leopold points out. “That finding has never been disturbed by any judge.”

Due to his health, the court has limited Demjanjuk’s trial to two 90-minute sessions a day, three times a week. At least eight times, court sessions have been postponed, usually because doctors say Demjanjuk’s hemoglobin levels are dangerously low. Since May 2009, Demjanjuk, 90, has been in a Munich prison or confined to a hospital.

Despite the slow pace of the trial, Leo Silberman, a Holocaust survivor who was a slave laborer at Buchenwald and other concentration camps, has “absolutely” been paying attention.  [W.Z.  Is Mr. Silberman related to the wife of Irving Abella? Supreme Court of Canada judge Rosalie Silberman Abella?]

“He’s been guilty since day one,” says Silberman, 85, who notes that for years he protested Demjanjuk’s presence in the U.S. outside the retired autoworker’s suburban Cleveland home.

Silberman, president of the Cleveland survivor group Kol Israel, acknowledges there are many Clevelanders who think Demjanjuk is innocent or is now too old and sick to stand trial for crimes committed nearly 70 years ago.

“He should have stood trial long ago,” says Zev Harel, a Holocaust survivor and retired professor of social work at Cleveland State University. “But better late than never.”

Harel concludes that those who cared previously about Demjanjuk still do so today. “It’s interesting he joined the evil German forces and now the righteous German justice system is trying him. Too bad it took this long.”

Charged with lying on his immigration papers about his wartime service as brutal Treblinka gas chamber guard “Ivan the Terrible,” Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel.

In 1988 he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court set aside his conviction, saying evidence indicated someone else was that Ivan. Demjanjuk returned to the U.S., and his citizenship was restored.

Several years later, the Justice Department brought new charges that Demjanjuk served at three other concentration camps. In 2002, he was once again denaturalized for lying about his past on his citizenship papers.

The slow pace of the legal proceedings notwithstanding, Michael Scharf, professor of law and director of the Frederick Cox International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University, says, “Every time they do one of these trials in Germany, it’s front page news. It forces a new generation of Germans to come to terms with what happened in the Holocaust.”

For the rest of the world, the Demjanjuk trial “reminds us that these kind of atrocities don’t have a statute of limitations,” says Scharf, who helped train judges and prosecutors on the Iraqi war-crimes tribunal. “Just because you’ve eluded justice for a sizable amount of time doesn’t mean you get away with it in the end.”

KGB records available after the collapse of the Soviet Union showed that someone other than Demjanjuk was “Ivan the Terrible,” says Scharf. But those same documents also prove that Demjanjuk was “guilty of being a guard at one of the worst camps.”

Demjanjuk’s trial has also demonstrated that he was not an unwilling participant, says Scharf, who spoke by phone while in the Netherlands delivering a speech.

While Demjanjuk has always denied serving as a Nazi guard and said he spent most of the war in POW camps, his defense attorney also argued that Soviet POWs recruited to serve the Germans were forced to obey SS orders in the concentration camps. Otherwise, they would be sent back to the POW camp to face almost certain execution, testified German historian Dieter Pohl. However, Pohl also said that some guards did escape and formed their own partisan group to fight the Germans.

Each time Scharf is quoted in the media about the Demjanjuk trial, he says he receives emails with the message that it’s not fair to continue to “hound this old, sick individual who was such a model citizen for the many years he lived in the Cleveland area.”

The trial has shown that Demjanjuk has faked at least some of his infirmity, Scharf notes. Before the local TV news cameras, Demjanjuk exhibited great pain and suffering when the Justice Department moved him out of his home.

But on hidden cameras, after the TV crews departed, prosecutors recorded a different scene. “Demjanjuk stood up and shook hands with his family,” says Scharf. “He looked quite healthy and joyous that he had pulled off this sham.”

That video was shown in court. “I think it was the last straw for his case,” says Scharf. “He’s a real fake. I don’t think the people in Cleveland understand that.

“The fact is, the things he did were so heinous [???] he should not be able to get away with it despite the passage of time.”

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