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Ukrainian Canadian | 27Mar2012 | staff

Demjanjuk update: German law leaves him innocent after death

It’s not being publicized as much as his death, but John Demjanjuk’s vindication may have come as the result of his passing last week:

Munich state court spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel said this week that under German law, Demjanjuk is “still technically presumed innocent,” because he died before his final appeal could be heard, and “a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Asked by Haaretz if that means there is no record of Demjanjuk’s conviction, Noetzel replied, “Yes, it means Mr. Demjanjuk has no criminal record.”

Since Demjanjuk’s conviction cannot be validated legally, due to his death, the conviction remains “merely as an historic fact,” Noetzel said.

Demjanjuk’s German lawyer, Dr. Ulrich Busch, told Haaretz that the Munich court published the statement regarding his client’s presumed innocence at his demand.

“After my client’s death, a false statement was distributed to the effect that Mr. Demjanjuk died as a convicted war criminal,” Busch told Haaretz in an exchange of e-mails. “The German and international media accepted this version and sullied my client, portraying him as one who led 28,000 people to the gas chambers.”

Busch said he demanded the legal authorities in Germany issue a clarification saying his client “died innocent and without conviction,” and that his conviction by a lower court “is invalid.

“The statement issued now clears my client’s name and restores his dignity,” he said.

“It’s a great consolation to his family, which is grieving over the loss of a husband and father, who died alone in far away Germany,” Busch added.

Good news for Demjanjuk’s family, as now they face a new hurdle in attempting to give him his final resting place in Ohio:

Efraim Zuroff, who leads the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, believes funeral in his adopted hometown would turn into a spectacle.

He said: ‘I have no doubt that a funeral in Seven Hills would turn into a demonstration of solidarity and support for Demjanjuk, who’s the last person on earth who deserves any sympathy, frankly.’

Unfortunately for German law, the verdict remains and leaves the new and dangerous precedent:

The Demjanjuk judgment set a major precedent as this was the first time a German court convicted someone solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of being involved in a specific killing

Sixty years after the end of World War II, Demjanjuk was one of a handful of living Nazi prison camp guards who can still be brought to trial. After years of reluctance, German authorities are now racing to bring the others to trial.

The so-called ‘evidence’ of him being a camp guard was being appealed, as even an FBI agent concluded the only piece of evidence (which came from the KGB of all places) was a fake. Will the new precedent be used to prosecute top-ranking Nazi officials? No -- many of them were exonerated and even participated in the new government of a ‘free’ Germany:

A total of 25 cabinet ministers, one president and one chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany -- as postwar Germany is officially known -- had been members of Nazi organizations.

For years, the notion that partisans of the Nazi regimes were able to manipulate their way into the top levels of government in the young federal republic, and that former Nazi Party members set the tone in a country governed by the postwar constitution in the 1950s and 60s has been a subject for historians.

Just how brown -- the color most associated with the Nazis -- were the first years of postwar West Germany?