In the 1980s, Demjanjuk stood trial in Israel after he was accused of being the notoriously brutal guard “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka extermination camp. He was convicted, sentenced to death — then freed when an Israeli court overturned the ruling, saying the evidence showed he was the victim of mistaken identity.
Demjanjuk maintains he was a victim of the Nazis — first wounded as a Soviet soldier fighting German forces, then captured and held as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions before joining the Vlasov Army, a force of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others that was formed to fight with the Germans against the Soviets in the final months of the war.
Demjanjuk’s son said he was relieved at the decision to free his father “because he has never deserved to sit in prison for one minute.”
But “after everything that he’s gone through, it is hard to use a word like happy in any context,” he said by phone from Cleveland, Ohio.
Demjanjuk was accused of having served as a “wachmann,” a guard, the lowest rank of the “Hilfswillige” volunteers who were subordinate to German SS men.
In a 1985 report, the FBI’s Cleveland field office concluded that: “Justice is ill-served in the prosecution of an American citizen on evidence which is not only normally inadmissible in a court of law but based on evidence and allegations quite likely fabricated by the KGB.”
That revelation has led to new court action in the U.S., with a District Court judge in Cleveland on Tuesday agreeing to appoint a public defender to represent Demjanjuk there, raising the prospect of renewing the decades-old case.
Andrea M. Jarach in Munich and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.