| Call him Ivan the Terrible. After
all, that is what US and Israeli courts call him, but not what his family may
say in the coming weeks. From them, you will again hear their story of mistaken
identity and injustice. The injustice, however, only stems from the continued
misinformation campaign headed by Nazi John "Ivan the Terrible" Demjanjuk's
son-in-law, Ed Nishnic, a former bakery truck driver who married into the
Demjanjuk family during Demjanjuk's trial in the US.
Demjanjuk will be back in the news because his attempts to deny his Nazi past
and avoid final deportation from the US have been exhausted. Two questions
remain: When will Demjanjuk be deported from the US, and to what country?
You will hear claims that Israel acquitted
Demjanjuk, but this is not true. Demjanjuk was found guilty of the crimes of
Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka in Israeli courts. Israel affirmed the
conclusion of the US courts that Demjanjuk volunteered to serve as an SS guard
and was not a prisoner of war as he claimed. After his initial deportation,
Demjanjuk was found guilty of war crimes in Israel, was sentenced to death by
hanging, and had several appeals, which culminated in a review of the sentence
by the Israeli Supreme Court. The court reviewed the death sentence he
received, but not the conviction itself, because according to Israeli law, the
only sentence for a convicted Nazi is death by hanging. Israel established
hanging as the only sentence for Nazis because it did not want to be seen as
jailing them. Right or wrong, the law was established to avoid comparisons of
Israel to the Nazis.
Under both Israeli and Jewish
law, there can be no doubt of guilt when carrying out a death sentence. US law
only requires guilt beyond reasonable doubt. These legal nuances impact how
people in the US perceive this case and explain how people can mistakenly
conclude Israel acquitted Demjanjuk, which Israel did not do.
In the Israeli Supreme Court's automatic review of
the death sentence, Demjanjuk's lawyers produced a document that would have
been inadmissible in US courts because the author had passed away and the
information in it, therefore, could not be verified or cross-examined. The
document was from a Nazi who stated that he served as an SS guard with
Demjanjuk at Sobibor. The document did not say one way or another if the author
knew if Demjanjuk went to Treblinka, which the trial was about ? the crimes of
Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.
Since the author did
not mention Treblinka, the court had a dilemma. The defense submitted a letter
stating and admitting that Demjanjuk was indeed a Nazi and did serve as an SS
guard. Although the letter did not deny Demjanjuk's work as a Nazi
concentration camp guard, it did not specifically mention Treblinka. The
document presented a question ? is it possible that the author knew all of
Demjanjuk's assignments and that Treblinka was not one of them? Despite all the
evidence that Demjanjuk volunteered to serve as an SS guard at Treblinka, and
is in fact Ivan the Terrible, there was a miniscule doubt, based on one
person's lack of knowledge of events after a certain date. This was enough to
overturn a death penalty under Israeli law.
result, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned Nazi Demjanjuk's death penalty,
but did not throw out the conviction. Demjanjuk still stands guilty in Israel
of being the sadistic Nazi death camp guard Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, but
Israel had no choice but to return him to the US under the terms of the
extradition treaty and order.
You will hear claims
that he was never found guilty of war crimes in the US. While there is some
truth to this claim, it is only half the story. Demjanjuk was not tried in the
US for war crimes. He was brought to trial for lies on his immigration
application, because the US lacked laws on the books to prosecute war crimes.
In order to prove Nazi Demjanjuk lied on his immigration paperwork, claiming he
had nothing to do with war crimes, the US had to prove he was someone
different. In open court, the US proved he was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.
Demjanjuk has been identified in US courts as a Nazi war criminal despite the
fact that his trial was not for committing such crimes.
You may hear claims that if Israel could not convict
him, he must not be guilty of anything. Beware of this argument. It is
sometimes used by Holocaust deniers who claim that Israel's inability to
convict Demjanjuk is proof that nobody can be convicted of such crimes because
the Holocaust never existed.
You will hear claims of
mistaken identity, but those claims are not true. Demjanjuk was the first Nazi
to claim mistaken identity as proof of innocence. The proof John Demjanjuk and
Ivan the Terrible are one and the same came in many forms, including eyewitness
testimony and the original Nazi ID card that includes his photograph and
signature. The Nazi documents were analyzed and authenticated by the US and
Israeli courts. Using modern photographic analysis techniques, commonly used in
forensic and criminal investigations, experts identified the photo on the ID
card of Ivan the Terrible as being John Demjanjuk.
You will hear claims that Demjanjuk is an old man in failing health who should
now be left alone after all these years. As such, we should remember several
things. First, there is no statute of limitations on murder. Considering the
effort the US took to prosecute Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson, who each
murdered on a large scale but nowhere near the scale of Demjanjuk, we have an
even larger moral obligation to prosecute Demjanjuk. Additionally, this case
has dragged on for so many years because Demjanjuk lied in court and he should
not be rewarded for that.
You may hear about how
much support there is for Demjanjuk's release as an innocent man. When
Demjanjuk returned from Israel to his home in the Cleveland area, he had to
sneak home on Sukkot to avoid the protesters in front of his house. As the
protest organizer, I can tell you we blocked a mass homecoming party that
included "Welcome Home John" signs over highways. Demjanjuk's main support came
from the city of Seven Hills, where he lives, which did everything it could to
block Jews from protesting in its city limits. The city efforts also included
investigating me and an attempt by a police officer to run me over.
Interestingly enough, we saw no challenge to block the Ku Klux Klan, which
demonstrated its support for the Nazi.
television news programs repeated the mistaken identity claims of Demjanjuk's
family, a representative of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland made a
comment on the local news programs stating they were against protests against
Demjanjuk because of fears of damage to Jewish community relations with the
Ukrainian community. That was akin to saying we should not say anything
negative about Islamist extremists after 9-11. The reality is that the
Ukrainian community should have stood with the Jewish protesters against
Demjanjuk, rather than protecting him as one of its own. More importantly, no
Jewish Community Federation should have ever taken a stance against Holocaust
survivors. In spite of that, students in youth groups such as Betar and B'nei
Akiva protested with Holocaust survivors in front of the Nazi's home. Under
pressure to do something, the Cleveland Federation later held a unity rally in
which protest spokesmen such as myself and Rabbi Avi Weiss were banned from
even getting near the stage under threat of arrest by the Cleveland police.
I testified in court for the right to protest in
front of the Demjanjuk home because Seven Hills, Ohio, did not want Jews in
their city. We won in court, including winning the right of simultaneous
protest against the KKK. It would have been nice to have the Jewish Community
Federation of Cleveland helping us in court. Instead, we had the help of the
American Civil Liberties Union, which we welcomed, representing us and our
right to freedom of speech. The ACLU had been looking for a case to defend the
Constitutional rights of Jews to protest for many years, as balance to their
defense of the infamous Nazi march in Skokie. It is sad that not one Jewish
organization came to our defense. We stood alone against a Nazi, and we won.
Demjanjuk stands guilty of being Ivan the Terrible
of Treblinka in both US and Israeli courts, and none of the evidence against
him has ever been disproved, despite what the Demjanjuk family and the KKK may
claim. Regardless of what stands in our way, it is important that we stand up
for ourselves and those who perished before us at the hands of evil people such
as Ivan the Terrible.