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Kyiv Post | 02Jun2011 | Natalia A. Feduschak

Case of Mistaken Identity?

Authorities say John Demjanjuk's wartime identity card proves he was a death camp guard, but some think the ID is a Soviet forgery.

DUBOVI MAKHARYNTSI, Ukraine -- This central Ukraine village gave birth to two Ivan Demjanjuks one year apart.

One, known to the world as John Demjanjuk, was convicted by a German court on May 12, 2011, of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews at a Nazi death camp.

The other one hanged himself in 1971, shortly after he learned that Soviet KGB agents came to the village looking for him.

The strange coincidence and diverging fates of the two Ivan Demjanjuks from Dubovi Makharyntsi are seen as possible clues to one of the longest-running sagas about Nazi-era war crimes during World War II.

John Demjanjuk, now 91 and living in a German nursing home, claims authorities got the wrong person and that he is being persecuted. He is appealing the Munich court’s ruling that he had been a guard at the Sobibor death camp in eastern Poland during World War II, and therefore must bear responsibility for the murders of Jews there.

If he’s correct, does it mean the Ivan Demjanjuk who killed himself may be responsible for the crimes that John was found guilty of committing? Is the whole John Demjanjuk affair a case of mistaken identity?

In Dubovi Makharyntsi, a farming village of 600 people in Vinnytsia Oblast, some locals question the verdict against John Demjanjuk, born here in 1920, just before the dawn of the Soviet Union. Some regard the court proceedings in Munich as Germany’s attempt to shift historical guilt for Nazi World War II crimes to another nation.

Worse, they say, the evidence against him was flimsy -- relying heavily on a wartime ID card that could have been forged by the Soviets. Moreover, authorities seem to have largely ignored one potentially key person -- the other Ivan Demjanjuk, villagers say.

In 1971 -- two decades after John Demjanuk settled in America -- villagers say the KGB came to town looking for Ivan Demjanjuk. The agents promptly summoned Petro Bondaruk, a World War II veteran who had fought alongside a man by that name, to the security’s regional headquarters for a talk in nearby Vinnytsia.

Putting three photos on the table, KGB officers asked Bondaruk to identify the man he had soldiered with in the Soviet Red Army in the early part of the war.

“None of them,” Bondaruk responded.

Upon returning to Dubovi Makharyntsi, Bondaruk went to the home of a villager named Ivan Demjanjuk and told him: “The KGB is interested in you.”
Less than two weeks later, this Ivan Demjanjuk hanged himself from the rafter of his barn.

Villagers here say in his act of desperation, Ivan Andriyevych Demjanjuk possibly took to the grave a secret that could have helped acquit Bondaruk’s wartime friend, Ivan Mykolaiovych Demjanjuk, the man now known as John.

The May 12, 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk -- a retired autoworker who settled near Cleveland, Ohio, after arriving in America in 1952 -- hasn’t settled anything about the mystery that has endured for three decades.

Accused of being the notorious guard Ivan the Terrible at another death camp, he lost his U.S. citizenship in 1981, was extradited to Israel in 1986 and sentenced to death in 1988. But Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1993 that Demjanjuk was not “Ivan the Terrible,” overturning the conviction and returning him to the U.S.

But in 2002, he lost his U.S. citizenship for the second time, a new trial was set in motion in Germany and he was extradited in 2009.

German state prosecutors claim John Demjanjuk volunteered to be a guard at the Sobibor death camp, where some 250,000 Jews were killed, after his capture by the Nazis in 1942. They say he trained at the nearby Trawniki concentration camp, which was used in part for instructing guards recruited from Soviet prisoners of war to work in German-occupied territories.

Germany’s key piece of evidence is a Nazi ID card, which prosecutors say proves John Demjanjuk was at Sobibor.

But he says he never served as a camp guard. Lending credence to the argument that the identity card is a fake is the recent discovery of a declassified U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation report. It states that, as early as 1985, the agency believed the identity card in question was likely a Soviet fabrication.

The defense has also argued that other documents exist in Russia that would exonerate Demjanjuk, but the court has rejected requests to search for them, according to the Associated Press.

Villagers in Dubovi Makharyntsi also believe the Germans got the wrong man. The existence of the other, mysterious Ivan Demjanjuk is just one source of reasonable doubt about John Demjanjuk’s guilt, villagers say.

“It is not possible he committed these crimes,” said Bondaruk’s son, also named Petro, who remembers the day in the early 1970s when his father returned from questioning by the KGB.

“The KGB said he betrayed the nation,” Bondaruk recalled his father saying. “He couldn’t have done that. We fought against the Germans, we shared bread. How could he do something like ‘betray the nation?’”

The elder Bondaruk died in 2007, but adamantly defended John Demjanjuk’s innocence to the end.

The story of the two Ivan Demjanjuks begins with their births in this village. Little is known, however, about the life of Ivan Andriyevych Demjanjuk, born in 1921 -- a year later than John.

But older villagers clearly recall John Demjanjuk worked as a tractor driver in the village’s collective farm. Like others, the John Demjanjuk family was poor, said Pavlina Matviychuk, his distant relative. “What good was there in this life?” she asked.

She was just a child when the war broke out, but remembers John Demjanjuk as hard-working and strong. He was drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1940. He and the elder Bondaruk fought alongside one another across war-time Europe’s blood-strewn and muddy fields, helping each other to survive, Bondaruk’s son said.

John Demjanjuk was injured in 1942 and, in an effort to save him, the elder Bondaruk hoisted him onto the back of wagon, never to see his friend again.
After the war, the elder Bondaruk returned to Dubovi Makharyntsi, as did Ivan Andriyevych Demjanjuk, with a wife and two daughters in tow.

Ivan Demjanjuk worked on the collective farm as a tractor driver and kept to himself, villagers said. As for his wartime activities, no one knew anything about them.
“No one knew where he was, what he did,” said the younger Bondaruk. “He worked as a tractor driver and he did such [work] so no one would see him.”

He didn’t like being photographed, Bondaruk said, noting his first wife was Ivan Demjanjuk’s niece.

He also had a troubled marriage, said Lida Pavliuk, the village head.

“He was a mean man, was very mean to his wife and would hit her,” said Pavliuk. “The wife would say, ‘Stop humiliating me or I will go and tell everything about you.’”

No one paid any attention to the woman’s words until after “all this [the John Demjanjuk case] started and after he [Ivan] hanged himself,” Pavliuk, the village head, said.

Ivan Demjanjuk’s wife left Dubovi Makharyntsi after his suicide. Villagers also speculate that he might have ended his life because of marital troubles, but the timing remains suspect, they said.

While no one in the village wants to put unfounded blame on a dead man, Pavliuk wonders why no one has ever bothered trying to find Ivan Demjanjuk’s widow to question her. “I’ve said before, ‘why don’t you find that woman, if she knows something, she would say?’”

Villagers here are apt to believe that the Soviet Union fabricated documents against John Demjanjuk, including the Nazi ID card on which the Germans have built their case.

Bondaruk said in the early 1980s, the KGB came to Dubovi Makharyntsi and took all of John Demjanjuk’s family photos and letters he had written to his mother and sister, who remained in the village after the war. It would have been easy to doctor the ID card using photographs that had been confiscated, villagers said.

Throughout John Demjanjuk’s travails, villagers here have expressed amazement that the international community has largely gone after low-ranking individuals in prosecuting war crimes, while Germans themselves have remained mostly unscathed. Many also see the trial of John Demjanjuk as an indirect attack on Ukraine, which has had its own painful history of anti-Semitism.

Then there is the feeling that Germans are tired of taking blame for the war and are looking to spread it around.

“They started the war, Germany did,” said Bondaruk. “Now they are putting the blame on another nation. How can you do that?”

“They needed to hang the war on someone,” added Luda Savchuk, the village accountant. “So they hung it on John Demjanjuk.”

Key dates in the case of John Demjanjuk

Born in Ukraine.

1942: Captured by German forces while serving in the Soviet Red Army.

1952: Demjanjuk emigrates to the U.S., claims to have spent much of World War II in a German prisoner of war camp.

1958: Gains U.S. citizenship.

1977: Justice Department seeks to revoke citizenship, alleging Demjanjuk hid past as Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible.”

1981: Citizenship revoked.

1986: Extradited to Israel for trial over his alleged role at Treblinka death camp.

1988: Convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sentenced to death.

1993: Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously rules Demjanjuk was not “Ivan the Terrible,” overturning 1988 verdict and returning him to U.S.

1998: Regains U.S. citizenship.

1999: U.S. Justice Department again seeks to revoke citizenship, alleging that although not “Ivan the Terrible,” Demjanjuk was a guard at Nazi death and forced labor camps.

2002: Loses U.S. citizenship again.

2005: U.S. immigration judge says Demjanjuk can be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine.

March 11, 2009: German prosecutors issue arrest warrant, accusing Demjanjuk of being accessory to murder and say they will seek deportation from U.S.

May 11, 2009: Berlin court rejects appeal against deportation; Demjanjuk leaves home by ambulance and is flown to Germany.

July 3, 2009: Demjanjuk deemed fit to stand trial though his time in court must not exceed two 90-minute sessions daily.

July 13, 2009: Prosecutors charge Demjanjuk with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder.

Nov. 30, 2009: Trial begins in Munich.

June 8, 2010: Court raises number of charges to 28,060 after based on evidence of more Sobibor victims.

May 12, 2011: Court convicts Demjanjuk on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder, sentences him to five years in prison but releases him pending appeal. He is living in a nursing home at the expense of the German government.

May 28, 2011: Associated Press quotes Ukrainians in America and Ukraine as supporting Demjanjuk’s innocence. “If there’s any way that we can help him get his citizenship reinstated, we will do anything that we possibly can,” said Tamara Olexy, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.

Kyiv Post staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at [email protected]


ASDF: Jun 3 at 10:38
Natalia Feduschak takes the anti-Ukrainian position that some Ukrainian must have been responsible for whatever crimes are have been alleged, as for example those of Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, or those alleged at Sobibor. However, none of the crimes attributed to Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka actually happened, as there never was any Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, so it would be irrational to try to continue trying to pin those crimes on some Ukrainian or other.

And if the entire prosecution story of Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka was fictional, we lose confidence that everything said about Sobibor must be true. No point trying to find some Ukrainian to blame for those crimes either, as the crimes have not been established in a real court of law, only alleged in show trials conducted by kangaroo courts.

If Natalia Feduschak has not read xoxol.org, she should not be writing about John Demjanjuk, and if she has read xoxol.org but lacks the courage to publish what she knows to be true, she needs her courage bolstered before she will be able to become a real journalist.

The Brits shut him up permanently: Jun 3 at 19:11
Himmler Nailed it Perfectly
The "gas chambers" were wartime propaganda fantasies completely comparable to the garbage that was shoveled out by Lord Bryce and associates in World War I. The factual basis for these ridiculous charges was nailed with perfect accuracy by Heinrich Himmler in an interview with a representative of the World Jewish Congress just a few weeks before the end of the war:[422]

"in order to put a stop to the epidemics, we were forced to burn the bodies of incalculable numbers of people who had been destroyed by disease. We were therefore forced to build crematoria, and on this account they are knotting a noose for us."

It is most unfortunate that Himmler was a "suicide" while in British captivity, because had he been a defendant at the IMT, his situation would have been such that he would have told the true story (being fully informed and not in a position to shift responsibility to somebody else), and books such as the present book would not be necessary, because the major material could be read in the IMT trial transcript. But then, you see, it was not within the bounds of political possibility that Himmler live to talk at the IMT.

That Himmler's assessment of the gas chamber accusations is the accurate one should be perfectly obvious to anybody who spends any time with this subject, as we have seen especially in Chapter 4. In particular, Hilberg and Reitlinger should have been able to see this before completing even fractions of their thick books, which are monumental foolishness.