John Demjanjuk, convicted death camp guard, dies

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He said after the war he was unable to return to his homeland, and that taking him away from his family in the U.S. to stand trial in Germany was a “continuation of the injustice” done to him.

Germany is responsible for the fact that I have lost for good my whole reason to live, my family, my happiness, any future and hope,” he said.

But representatives of victims, Jewish groups and others welcomed his trial as a legitimate quest for justice.

“A death is always tragic. But in this case it is important to say that it was right to put him on trial and sentence him,” the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, told the AP.

“Justice does not know a statute of limitation, and age does not protect from punishment. This was never about revenge, but about justice,” he added.

Demjanjuk’s claims of mistaken identity, however, gained credence after he successfully defended himself against accusations initially brought in 1977 by the U.S. Justice Department that he was “Ivan the Terrible” — a notoriously brutal guard at the Treblinka extermination camp.

In connection with the allegation, he was extradited to Israel from the U.S. in 1986 to stand trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, convicted and sentenced to death. But the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993 overturned the verdict on appeal, saying that evidence showed another Ukrainian man was actually “Ivan the Terrible,” and ordered him returned to the U.S.

The Israeli judges said, however, they still believed Demjanjuk had served the Nazis, probably at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor. But they declined to order a new trial, saying there was a risk of violating the law prohibiting trying someone twice on the same evidence.

Demjanjuk returned to his suburban Cleveland home in 1993 and his U.S. citizenship, which had been revoked in 1981, was reinstated in 1998.

Demjanjuk remained under investigation in the U.S., where a judge revoked his citizenship again in 2002 based on Justice Department evidence suggesting he concealed his service at Sobibor. Appeals failed, and the nation’s chief immigration judge ruled in 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine.

Prosecutors in Germany filed charges in 2009, saying Demjanjuk’s link to Sobibor and Trawniki was clear, with evidence showing that after he was captured by the Germans he volunteered to serve with the fanatical SS and trained as a camp guard.

Though there are no known witnesses who remember Demjanjuk from Sobibor, prosecutors referred to an SS identity card that they said features a photo of a young, round-faced Demjanjuk and that says he worked at the death camp. That and other evidence indicating Demjanjuk had served under the SS convinced the panel of judges in Munich, and led to his conviction.

He was ordered tried in Munich because he lived in the area briefly after the war.

Demjanjuk, who was removed by U.S. immigration agents from his home in suburban Cleveland and deported in May 2009, questioned the evidence in the German case, saying the identity card was possibly a Soviet postwar forgery.

He reiterated his contention that after he was captured in Crimea in 1942, he was held prisoner until joining the Vlasov Army — a force of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others formed to fight with the Germans against the Soviets in the final months of the war.

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