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Kyiv Post | 29Mar2012 | Stephen Paskey

What John Demjanjuk could have taught us

The Demjanjuk case shows the law's limits.

On March 17, 2012, John Demjanjuk died in a German nursing home.

Demjanjuk spent 35 years of his life fighting charges that he served as a Nazi guard. In 2009, he was convicted in Germany as an accomplice to the murder of 27,900 Jews at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland.

For three years, I served as lead attorney on the U.S. government’s deportation case against Demjanjuk. Five years later, I believe that the Demjanjuk case demonstrates not the triumph of law, but law’s limitations.

I do not mean to suggest that Demjanjuk was falsely accused. His service as a guard at Sobibor is beyond dispute.

[W.Z. Beyond dispute? Certainly not!]

The key evidence consists of a wartime German identity card bearing his name, his photograph and unique biographical details: his date and place of birth, his father’s name, the color of his eyes, the scar on his back.

Credible experts have repeatedly examined the card. In every detail, from the ink and paper used to the signatures of Nazi officials, the card is unmistakably genuine.

[W.Z. On the contrary, independent researchers have demonstrated that the Trawniki ID card #1393 is certainly not genuine. Mr. Demjanjuk never signed it, the forms were not printed in a German-approved printing shop, it has no date of issue or "din" number, it uses erroneous German language, etc., etc.:
http://www.xoxol.org/dem/dem.html   ]

Demjanjuk’s service at Sobibor and other Nazi camps is confirmed by six Nazi documents gathered from archives in three countries.

Any claim that the documents were forged and then scattered across Europe and the former Soviet Union as part of a Soviet plot to frame Demjanjuk is absurd. [So how did they get there? What is their chain of custody?]

Even Demjanjuk’s own lawyers abandoned that claim. In the second U.S. trial, his lawyers argued instead that the man the documents depicted was either Demjanjuk’s cousin or someone who had stolen his identity.

Unlike the concentration camps, which were sites for Jewish slave labor, Sobibor existed for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of Jews.

As a Sobibor guard, Demjanjuk’s daily duties required that he march Jewish men, women, and children at gunpoint from trains to the gas chambers. [Mr. Paskey is fantasizing. This is what Mr. Demjanjuk was accused of in Treblinka.]

His role was essential to the camp’s operation.

From a purely legal perspective, the German court correctly concluded that Demjanjuk was an accomplice to murder.

And yet, even if reasonable people accept that conclusion, they can disagree about whether the case against him was “just.”

Demjanjuk long ago ceased to be a flesh-and-blood man in any public sense. Instead, he became a character in competing public narratives, a vehicle by which people of differing opinions argued about accountability for genocide.

For those who supported the prosecution, the Demjanjuk case proves that there is no statute of limitations for genocide, and that even the smallest cog is essential to the work of a genocidal machine. [These concepts will eventually be used to prosecute Israelis for their crimes in Palestine -- and Americans for supporting these crimes.]

To some survivors and their families, the case provided a strong affirmation that their stories of suffering were important.

To some prosecutors, the case became a contest of wills, a determined effort to prove the truth against one man’s stubborn denial.

Still others tell the story differently. To Demjanjuk’s family and supporters, the case represented an abuse of government power and a waste of government resources.

And for many Ukrainians, the case involved a kind of “ethnic profiling.”

There is a sense that Demjanjuk was a convenient scapegoat, that his role in the Holocaust did not justify a prosecution, and that someone who was not Ukrainian would have been treated differently.

All of this is a matter of ethics or opinion rather than fact. [The fact is that the OSI was/is guilty of prosecutorial misconduct -- and, as a significant cog in this organization, Stephen Paskey must share this guilt.]

Neither side is entirely right or entirely wrong, and sometimes the lines are blurred. In the course of my work, I interviewed dozens of Holocaust survivors.

A small but striking percentage told me that the prosecution of Nazi guards was pointless, that nothing could be gained from pursuing such men so many years after the fact.

And even for some who believe that Demjanjuk assisted in murder, the German prosecution is troubling.

For decades, German prosecutors insisted that a man like Demjanjuk could not be convicted because he could not be tied to the murder of any specific person.

As a result, thousands of German citizens who might have been prosecuted as accomplices to genocide were effectively given a full reprieve.

Why, then, did the Germans choose to prosecute Demjanjuk at the last possible moment? And why a Ukrainian rather than a German citizen? Given Germany’s long history of neglect in similar cases, the criminal case against Demjanjuk was unjust and should not have gone forward.

I still believe that the U.S. government’s civil case against Demjanjuk accomplished some good.

[W.Z. On the contrary, the Demjanjuk "civil cases" caused severe harm to the American judicial processes and to American society, in general.]

It deepened the public’s understanding of the Holocaust, and affirmed the U.S. government’s frequently shaky resolve to hold perpetrators accountable for atrocities. [When will American perpetrators be held accountable? When will Mr. Paskey be held accountable?]

But in a deeper sense, the litigation accomplished little. Whatever good might have been done seems to be outweighed by questions we still cannot answer.

Whether Demjanjuk was “guilty” or “innocent” matters less than what we might have learned if Demjanjuk could speak freely about his experiences.

He later became a husband and father, loved by his wife and children. How is it possible that such a man could do what Demjanjuk did, could close his eyes and heart to the suffering of the husbands, wives, sons and daughters who were murdered with his assistance?

What did he think about at night, knowing that hundreds of people had been murdered that day, and that more would be murdered tomorrow? And what, if anything, might have helped him refuse to participate? [Mr. Paskey is simply regurgitating Holocaust propaganda.]

In the trials against Demjanjuk, such questions were legally irrelevant.

But if we truly wish to prevent future atrocities, we must learn the answers. Psychologists and moral theorists have been working on the issues, but we still understand far too little.

[W.Z.  In the future, "psychologists and moral theorists will be working on" the mindset of Mr. Paskey and his apologists.]

The prosecution of John Demjanjuk ensured that he would tell us nothing. And now that Demjanjuk is dead, a critical piece of the truth has been buried with him, and we will never know.

From 1995 to 2007, Stephen Paskey served as a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice. He currently teaches legal analysis, writing, and research at the SUNY Buffalo Law School in Buffalo, New York.
The opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.


guest1 | Mar 30 at 20:20
Mr. Paskey conveniently does not mention that the ID card appeared to have been tampered with and "quite likely fabricated" as shown in a declassified FBI report; and "fabricated by the KGB!" This was reported back in 1985, four years after the KGB "found" the card and displayed it to US investigators. It is this same card that played such major key evidence in all the allegation against Demjanjuk.
This report was covered up then and Paskey continues to do so now.

Mr. Paskey seems to be clueless as to why the Soviets (KGB) would want to smear the Ukrainian diaspora which was very anti-soviet and very independent minded. I suggest taking some contemporary Ukrainian history lessons on this subject; possibly read some articles/books written by those who have defected during the soviet times. For example,Arkady Shevchenko, a high level diplomat, clearly outlined the disinformation campaign by the KGB against the Ukrainian diaspora (which continues against the Ukrainian people to this day).

Mr. Paskey is very wrong in his assessment. Mr. Demajanjuk's guilt or innocence matters greatly. And the evidence, all of it, seems to reflect not his guilt but his innocence. Lack of credibility, questionable evidence, conflicting conclusions; at the very least, these all point to justice ill-served.

William | Mar 30 at 06:38
I don't understand Mr Paskey. First he states that there is no doubt of Demjanjuk (may he rot in Hell) was guilty, then he says whether he was guilty or not is not the issue. It is the issue and the only issue. These guards were picked by the nazis for their ability to murder innocent Jews with no mercy or remorse. The author asks how could Demjanjuk been a family man after murdering all those innocents? Just as many others did the same thing. They believed that the jews they were killing were less than human and therefore they could do whatever they wanted to them. I heard a former prisoner who knew Demjanjuk at Treblinka tell of his demand that the prisoner rape a 12 year old girl who had just miraculously survived the gas chamber. Others testified that he RAN to the gas chamber with a sharp knife to slice off the breasts of the naked women victims waiting to be gassed. He was a monster just as all of the camp guards were because they could act out all of their sick, twisted, dark desires with no punishment. So they did and so did Demjanjuk. The survivors wanted Demjanjuk hanged as a representative of the Ukrainian guards who made these camps work. the germans couldn't do it alone. There were only 8 Germans in the town of Skalat in Ukraine. How did they kill 10,000 Jews. They didn't know who was Jewish. They had help. the local Ukrainian population informed and rounded up the jews for them. Men Like Demjanjuk took care of the killing and enjoyed it. Mr Paskey wants to know the mind of the killers. He will never know the mind of the killers. They will never talk to him openly. I challenge any of the killers who remain alive in Ukraine to answer Mr kaskey's question. How could you have done that?

Q & A | Mar 30 at 18:17
Q: In Wiesel's book "Night", he speaks of a jewish acquaintance in Auschwitz who was forced to push his own father into a gas chamber -- does this not make him an accomplice?

A: Yes it would make him an accomplice if it were true BUT I've long ago stopped believing so called "witnesses" and "heresay of stories that don't make sense"...would YOU push people you LOVE into death or would you gladly trade places or go with them?..."Sophie's Choice" was pure FICTION even though well "acted" Hollywood Holocaustamania.

Read the comment about Marchenko below:

Neither Marchenko nor Demjanjuk was an Ivan the Terrible ...there was NO Ivan the Terrible ...he was merely a composite of many fragmented memories, fears and hallucinations which consolidated into a mythical CARTOON type villain complete with the masturbating German shepherd dog, whip and sword (can YOU imagine a guard walking around hacking off ears, breasts and penises while fooling the onlookers watching this spectacle that they are in line to take a shower??? Really? You believe that Jews who question EVERYTHING even God are going to believe a madman with blood dripping off his sword that they are in line to get a shower???)
The Marchenko scapegoat invention was a VERY convenient strategy for Israel which did NOT want to kill an innocent man and for the Demjanjuk family which would agree to blame everything on a defenseless deceased Marchenko who could not be defended by anyone. It was a package deal: kept the Ivan the Terrible Myth alive and freed Demjanjuk to go home until the Sobibor scheme could be conjured up.

There were more Jewish collaborators in Nazi uniforms than Ukrainian so what's your point, William?

AL | Mar 30 at 18:09
Please write your macabre Fairy Tales elsewhere.

CONVICTED war criminal | Mar 30 at 02:22
"John Demjanjuk could have taught us" how he feels in the HELL where all the nazi and their collaborators end up, HA HA HA, gasp, HO HO HO :D
Over there he met his fuhrer Hitler and his DUPA poodle Banduga both with big holes in their empty heads, heh, heh, heh :D
heh,heh,heh:DUPA | Mar 30 at 18:01
once a DUPA face, always a DUPA face heh,heh,heh:DUPA
Now we know what his D stands for ....DUPA!

Haaretz | Mar 30 at 01:56

Soviet Style | Mar 29 at 23:58
Kyiv Post recirculating Same Questions hoping for different Answers :Soviet Style

Paskey's Canard | Mar 29 at 23:53
"Whether Demjanjuk was “guilty” or “innocent” matters less than what we might have learned if Demjanjuk could speak freely about his experiences." This is yet another CANARD!
Demjanjuk DID speak freely to one and ALL - its just that the Holocaust propaganda lobby did NOT like what he said: "I am innocent man!" and they still don't!(and never will!) Don't forget he was under psychological torture day & night for years in his Israeli jail cell -- not allowed to sleep in darkness -- not one night of normal sleep -- with the light ALWAYS on!
A weaker man would have confessed to ANYTHING just to plea bargain himself out of the torment.