Cleveland Plain Dealer | Nov. 18, 2004 | John Caniglia

Demjanjuk loses bid to retain citizenship

Justices rebuff appeal of ruling on Nazi role

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected John Demjanjuk's attempt to keep his citizenship, a decision that will quicken the push to deport him.

The ruling means the government's 27-year chase of the man accused of being a Nazi death-camp guard is winding to a close.

His attorney, John Broadley, said the former Seven Hills' auto-worker is the victim of mistaken identity and denies that he persecuted Jews.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, a move that upheld U.S. District Judge Paul Matia's ruling that Demjanjuk, 84, was a sentry at three concentration camps and lied about his wartime past when he entered the United States in 1952.

His case and others have caused intense debate nearly 60 years after World War II. Some question why federal authorities should deport old men in their final years. Others say men like Demjanjuk should not enjoy the privileges of this country.

"Those who participated in genocide have no right to live here, and John Demjanjuk will soon have to pay for his past. He'll lose his haven in this country," said Shelly Shapiro, director of the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center in Albany, N.Y.

In a two-week trial in 2001, federal prosecutors introduced seven documents that they said placed Demjanjuk at the camps.

This includes a service pass that had his picture, height, eye color, father's name and date of birth. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the pass and other documents corroborate Demjanjuk's identity. Defense attorneys said the man in the picture is Demjanjuk's cousin, Ivan.

Within weeks of issuing his order, Matia ruled that the government could not begin deportation proceedings until the appeals process was completed. Broadley has since filed an appeal with the 6th Circuit, based on Demjanjuk's handwriting. That appeal is pending.

The Justice Department is expected to ask Matia to rescind the ruling so that deportation proceedings can begin in federal immigration court. Demjanjuk could be shipped out of the country within two years if that happens, according to interviews and court records.

If deported, Demjanjuk could be sent to his native Ukraine or to Germany, the country from where he arrived. He also could go to any country that would be willing to take him.

"Even though the appeals process has moved glacially, I believe that this will be done quickly," said Alan Rosenbaum, a philosophy professor at Cleveland State University and author of "Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals."

"No matter how old he is, justice must be served," Rosenbaum said.

Demjanjuk drew international attention in 1977, when authorities claimed that he was "Ivan the Terrible," who led Jews to the gas chambers. A federal judge revoked his citizenship in 1981, and he was extradited to Israel and found guilty of war crimes. He was sentenced to death but was freed after evidence was discovered that another man was "Ivan."

He returned to his wife and family in Seven Hills. Matia reinstated his citizenship in 1998 but left open the chance that prosecutors could file a new case against Demjanjuk for serving as a camp guard at Majdanek and Sobibor, both in German-occupied Poland, and Flossenburg in Germany.

Eli Rosenbaum, leader of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit, declined to comment.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
jcaniglia@plaind.com, 216-999-4128
2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.