Russian TV | 30Nov2009 | Yoram Sheftel interview

My client isn’t Nazi criminal – man dubbed “Satan’s lawyer” speaks out

John Demjanjuk is now on trial in Germany for war crimes against Jews. RT spoke to Yoram Sheftel, the lawyer who defended him in Israel, and he explained what made him believe Demjanjuk was not a Nazi criminal.

RT: Thank you very much for joining us. What made you decide to take the case?

Yoram Sheftel: I took the case because I was convinced right from the beginning that there is no credible evidence to tie Demjanjuk to the Holocaust generally speaking, and specifically to Treblinka. And also I had an interview with him for about two and a half hours before I made my final decision, and from that interview I became fully convinced that the man never put his foot in Treblinka.

RT: You never thought he was Ivan the Terrible and as you say you met with him and you write in your book that he was the simplest of individuals with quite limited intellectual capacity, you say he had a very bad memory. But how do you know he wasn’t acting?

YS: [There is a] very simple test which I’m astonished as a Jew and an Israeli that our Israeli Jewish police and our Israeli Jewish prosecution didn't use. I was mentioning time and again the Yiddish word to Demjanjuk of “Gevalt”, which is the word that Jews, when forced to go to the gas chamber, were shouting in Yiddish. I was fully convinced that it was the first time he had heard this word.

RT: What does “Gevalt” mean?

YS: Gevalt – kind of… Yiddish is a non-translatable language, but “gevalt” is something horrible is going to happen and cry of desperation.

RT: You have been typecast as Satan’s lawyer and sometimes described as “the most hated man in Israel”. How do you respond to these accusations? Did you not feel that in some way you were perhaps a traitor to your own people for defending someone like him?

YS: I defended him because I was convinced that he isn’t a Nazi. I didn’t dispute the Holocaust, I didn’t dispute that 900,000 Jews were slaughtered in Treblinka and I didn’t dispute any of the crimes attributed to Ivan the Terrible. I disputed only one fact -- the man is not Ivan the Terrible. That was my case, nothing else.

RT: You have been accused of taking the case to favor your own political career. And you once wrote that “Joining the defense was the wisest decision I have ever taken in my life.” What is your defense against your critics?

YS: First of all, I really don’t know where this political matter came from, because I never had, I don’t have and I shall never have any political career. Second, I think it’s the worst thing you can think of if you think about political career becoming the lawyer of someone like Ivan the Terrible, so it’s actually the first time that I have heard about my political aspirations as far as joining this case.

Yes, definitely, it was the wisest decision, since it’s one of the most important cases of the 20th century. And I think rarely prosecutors were defeated so heavily and so unequivocally and also it was possible to show how all of them, I mean the Americans and the Israelis, were first and foremost dishonest. This case is not a case of mistaken identity, this case – as was ruled by the Federal Court of Appeal of the Six Circuit – is a case of fraud on the court, because all throughout the proceedings they knew that Demjanjuk is not Ivan the Terrible, based on the very same evidence that in the end of the day I discovered and are the basis of his acquittal.

RT: Why? Why was it so important for them to convict him?

YS: Very simple. This is a typical bureaucratic blunder. The OSI was established in 1976, very short time afterwards they discovered Ivan the Terrible. Within months they became a whole big apparatus with big government funding, employees, bosses and whatever. And when twelve months later the Soviets told them: Look, you got it all wrong. And they sent them the material which proves that Ivan the Terrible is not Ivan Demjanjuk. Then they simply concealed it because they simply didn't what to decrease the size of their bureaucratic empire. It’s as simple as that. And then other bodies for political and other reasons collaborated with them, and specifically of course Israel, which thought that the Demjanjuk case would be the second Eichmann trial.

RT: Yes, the only person ever to be hanged in Israel was Adolf Eichmann. Do you think that in this case Israel was seeking justice with Demjanjuk or do you think it was just another Nazi show trial?

YS: Maybe both at the beginning, but when they found out that there is a mistake instead of admitting the mistake and asking forgiveness of all those who were hurt and injured because of this mistake, they chose to proceed with this farce.

RT: Why do you think Israel decided to proceed?

YS: Because they, our legal establishment, could not and were not able to admit the mistake. I state in the book as one of the reasons I took the case was in order to take on our legal establishment which I was sick and tired of already over twenty years ago.

RT: You did write in your book “The Demjanjuk Affair: the Rise and Fall of a Show Trial” that the Israeli judicial system is an oxymoron.

YS: Yes, but I must say, that I’m an Israeli and I perform in Israeli courts, but I don’t think that our legal justice system is worse even in one inch than in other Western democratic legal systems. On the contrary, I don't think in the US, whatever happens even with the new evidence, an American or someone that will be accused of killing 900,000 Americans in gas chambers even with the evidence of Demjanjuk will not be acquitted. and the same will not happen in England and in France and any country of the world. At the end of the day, with all my harsh criticism of our legal establishment, I think it’s the only court of law in the world that would acquit Demjanjuk.

RT: Did the Demjanjuk trial change the Israeli system in any way?

YS: Not at all. It didn’t leave any doubt whatsoever, and it’s horrible. After the Demjanjuk case they promoted – after he was acquitted – they took two of the judges that sent him to the gallows and promoted them to the Supreme Court.

RT: How did you win the case? Was it based on the technicality?

YS: Not at all. I don’t think there has ever been a conviction in a major trial in the 20th century completely crushed as the new evidence which consisted of 80 statements in real time from 1944 till 1955 of 37 watchmen of Treblinka, interviewed and interrogated by the Soviet Union. All of them pointed at Ivan Marchenko as one of the two operators of the gas chambers. We have a picture of him, we have his Nazi ID card and there is no resemblance, not in the way they look, not in their age, not in their personal status, not in the place they lived. It’s two totally different individuals that have nothing to do one with the other.

RT: Who do you think is Ivan the Terrible? Marchenko?

YS: We know exactly. We know exactly not only who Ivan the Terrible is, but we also know exactly where to look for him. Because, with the evidence I produced, there was one testimony of Treblinka watchman who saw Ivan the Terrible in the north of Italy, north of Yugoslavia – the border of Italy and Yugoslavia – in April 1945 saying he has no intention whatsoever to go back to the Soviet Union. He had a Yugoslavian ex-partisan girlfriend and he planned to settle in one of the villages around of the city of Fiome. And since we produced this evidence, no one tried to look for him there.

RT: But that seems absurd.

YS: You know why? As long as we don’t have the blood and the flesh or the body or the bones of Ivan the Terrible, people can say “Yes, it’s technicalities and so on and actually Demjanjuk is actually Ivan the Terrible”. Once you found Ivan Marchenko even dead, you can’t say so anymore. Therefore no one looks for him.

RT: So who do you think Demjanjuk is?

YS: I don’t know. As I’m sure 100 % that he is not Ivan the Terrible and I’m sure 100% that there is no credible evidence to prove any crime connected with the Holocaust against him. I was not with him during the war and maybe there is some evidence that can prove something against him. Not the evidence that exists. The evidence that exists – the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it is not credible and cannot guarantee conviction on prosecuting on any charge connected to the Holocaust.

RT: He is now being tried in Germany. If he is found guilty of been a guard and killing Jews, even if he’s not Ivan the Terrible, would it be something difficult for you to come to terms with?

YS: Not at all because I know as a fact that nothing changed, definitely not substantially in the evidence that existed against Demjanjuk when after his acquittal is a fate was delivered again by our Supreme Court and our General Attorney and now nothing happening between or at all or definitely substantially as far as evidence is concerned. Therefore exactly as the Israeli district court sent Demjanjuk to the gallows as being Ivan the Terrible in the theater hall that the case was conducted in, I won't be at all impressed due to a decision of German court -- knowing myself the evidence myself -- that Demjanjuk is a watchman of Sobibor or whatever.

RT: Yoram Sheftel. Thank you very much for joining us on RT.

YS: Thank you.

[W.Z. An RT video of the interview of Yoram Sheftel  is available at the following German link: