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Cleveland.com | 20Mar2012 | Ken Baka

Demjanjuk's widow looks to past, future with sadness

SEVEN HILLS -- The widow of John Demjanjuk bemoaned the United States government's role in spending taxpayers' money to prosecute her late husband.

Demjanjuk, the Seven Hills autoworker who was convicted in a German court of being an accessory to murder as a World War II Nazi death camp guard, died in a nursing home in Germany March 17, 2012 at age 91. Vera Demjanjuk said the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations "did this dirty job."

She also worries for her American grandchildren.

"I have nine, 10 (grand)kids, right?" she said. "I worry about how they could continue to live here. What happened to me could happen to them in 30, 40 years."

Vera Demjanjuk, 86, of Meadowlane Road, said she last spoke to her late husband March 16, 2012.

"'Oh, 'ma. I'm OK, everything is fine,'" she recalled him saying.

Demjanjuk died about two weeks before his 92nd birthday.

Vera Demjanjuk had not seen him since 2009, when he was taken to Germany for trial. She did not go because she said she suffered from heart problems.

"He worry every minute about me and my kids," Vera Demjanjuk said during an interview outside a door of the house in which she lived since 1975.

Looking well groomed but sad with tears in her eyes, Vera Demjanjuk said she did not know if the body of her husband, whose U.S. citizenship had been revoked, would be returned here for a burial.

"Supposed to be and so far as I know, but I can't be talking before somebody else because then . . . maybe I go to jail, too," she said.

She said America was "our land."

"We fight all our life for this."

The two, both natives of Ukraine during the Stalinist era of Soviet Russia, lived through famine and World War II.

"I lived in the front line for almost three years back home and I couldn't walk across the street or I had to step on a body," she said of her youth.

Some Holocaust survivors and federal agents suspected her husband was a Nazi prisoner-of-war guard nicknamed Ivan the Terrible. He fought that accusation ever since 1977. Although acquitted in Israel of war crimes, a German court convicted him in May of being an accessory to murder for nearly 28,000 deaths and sentenced him to five years in prison.

According to news reports, John Demjanjuk's son was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Germany used his father as a "scapegoat to blame helpless Ukrainian POWs for the deeds of Nazi Germans."

When asked what her husband told her of his past, Vera Demjanjuk's answer — verbalized in broken English -- was unclear.

She did clearly say, "He was a brilliant guy" who "was so good" and "didn't bother nobody for 64 years."

She challenged anyone to name a person who spent nearly 40 years fighting a charge against them. She noted he was acquitted in Israel.

She said the U.S. government's spending of taxpayers' money during the prosecution was hard on the country as well as on herself.

She indicated the couple's ordeal was a disappointment compared to their life's hopes after having gone through famine and war and moving here in the early 1950s.

'You live whole life like this and you come to country. You fight whole life, and you're stupid."

"How can somebody do this? I can never hurt a person like that."

She also said, raising her voice, "I can't trust nobody now. How can you?"

Vera Demjanjuk said her grandchildren ask about their grandfather.

"What can you tell them? That's a shame."

She said many have been sympathetic and "come to me and cry and feel sorry."

Vera Demjanjuk said she expects to move out of the Seven Hills house in about a year.