Kyiv Post | 26Nov2009 | Andriy J. Semotiuk
Demjanjuk saga enters final round
Andriy J. Semotiuk
writes: With shoddy evidence, a show trial in Germany is not
likely to bring justice to this native of Ukraine.
As the curtain rises on the trial of John Demjanjuk on Nov. 30, 2009 in
Munich, Germany, he is accused of being an accessory to the murder of
29,700 inmates of the Nazi Sobibor concentration camp during World War
II. The efforts to prosecute Demjanjuk over the last 30 years, the
and the evidence expected to be presented all point to a show trial in
the making. The rule of law is not likely to prevail.
Media coverage has, so far, neglected to highlight that -- in every
criminal trial, including Demjanjuk’s -- the basic presumption of
innocence applies. The accused is presumed innocent until proven
guilty. Demjanjuk does not have to prove his innocence. The prosecution
must prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Calling him a Nazi may garner headlines, but it will not change the
fact that Nazi ideology precluded non-Aryans like Demjanjuk, who was
Ukrainian and, therefore, an Untermensch or subhuman. This made him
ineligible to be part of the Nazi Party. As an Untermensch, it is more
likely Demjanjuk was a victim of the Nazi regime than a persecutor.
Demjanjuk was born in Soviet-occupied Ukraine in 1920. As a child,
Demjanjuk lived through the 1932-1933 Holodomor inflicted on Ukraine by
Josef Stalin, killing millions of Ukrainians by starvation. Having
survived such a Soviet atrocity, it is not surprising that -- with the
outbreak of World War II -- Demjanjuk was not exactly eager to join the
Soviet Red Army. Nonetheless, he was conscripted.
In 1942, he was captured by the Germans. According to him, he
languished during his wartime years as a German prisoner of war until
1945. After the war, Demjanjuk and others like him from Soviet Ukraine
became the target of Operation Keelhaul. Arising out of an agreement
reached in Yalta among Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, Operation
Keelhaul enabled Soviet Red Army officers, initially acting with Allied
military support, to comb through displaced persons camps looking for
anyone who could reveal the truth about the abhorrent Stalinist past.
Out of those caught and destined for Soviet repatriation, some
committed suicide, some were shot trying to escape and still others
ended up in the Soviet Gulag. The fate of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn comes
to mind in this context. Anyone who refused to return, or who managed
to evade Soviet capture, was accused by the Soviets of Nazi
collaboration -- whether the allegation was true or false.
Forcible repatriation became the terror of most displaced persons from
the Soviet Union, including Demjanjuk. It was ironic, since the Soviets
actually collaborated with the Nazis. They signed the
Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact on the eve of World War II,
carving up Poland with the Germans, their allies during the first two
years of the war. Nonetheless, such accusations leveled against
displaced persons hindered those who were unjustly accused in their
efforts to emigrate to the West, at least until the Allies finally
caught on to this Soviet intrigue.
In this context, in 1952, Demjanjuk obtained permission to emigrate to
the United States with his wife and daughter. He settled in Cleveland,
Ohio, where he found work as a mechanic at a Ford auto plant. He then
had another daughter and a son. More than 20 years passed.
According to recent stories, Michael Hanusiak, editor of the New
York-based Ukrainian Daily News, in 1975 compiled a list of Ukrainians
suspected of collaborating with Germans and presented it to the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Demjanjuk was on the list. What Engelhart failed to identify was that
the Ukrainian Daily News was nothing more than a Soviet mouthpiece, at
least according to Yoram Sheftel, an Israeli attorney who wrote about
the incident in his book Defending Ivan the Terrible. The newspaper
served as a convenient vehicle for the Soviet KGB to set off Ukrainians
against Jews, particularly in the United States.
In 1977, Demjanjuk was accused of being Ivan the Terrible, a gas
chamber operator in Treblinka death camp in Poland. From 1977 to 1993,
Demjanjuk faced a long series of court hearings through the American
and then Israeli court systems. The case went all the way to the
Supreme Court of Israel.
In the course of those hearings, he was found guilty and sentenced to
death. In short, for 15 years, as he sat in U.S. and Israeli jails,
those who pursued and prosecuted Demjanjuk were positive that he was
not in Sobibor as they claim now, but rather in Treblinka.
But in 1993, after the defense was able to amass irrefutable evidence
to the contrary, the Israeli Supreme Court lifted the sentence,
dismissed the charges which, incidentally, included that he was in
Sobibor, and allowed him to return to the United States. In the
meantime, a U.S. federal appeals court had opened up his case after
determining that U.S. prosecutors were guilty of prosecutorial
misconduct in failing to earlier reveal to the defense certain
exculpatory evidence they had in their files. Demjanjuk’s U.S.
citizenship was reinstated and he was allowed to go free once again.
As it turned out, Demjanjuk was definitely not Ivan the Terrible of
Tremblinka. But those who had pursued Demjanjuk for 15 years, swearing
for certain he was in Treblinka and not anywhere else, then declared --
no, he was not in Treblinka, but rather he was in Sobibor! The process
started all over again in 2002. And this year, Demjanjuk was once again
on an airplane headed out of the country, this time to Germany. That
brings us to now.
The German case
The question arises: Why has Germany decided to target Demjanjuk? And
why now, after 30 years of silence, while the Demjanjuk case made its
way through the U.S. and Israeli courts? After all, there was no
shortage of Nazis to prosecute – no shortage of party members, Nazi
government officials, army officers and camp commandants. Why, for
example, didn’t Germany prosecute Reinhard Gehlen, the former Nazi
chief of the eastern front intelligence and the other ex-Nazis he
gathered in the West German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) that he
headed after the war, according to the Engelhart article?
The answer is that Germany did not have the stomach to prosecute its
own transgressors. While modern-day Germany has paid dearly to
disassociate itself from its Nazi past, paying out millions of dollars
in reparations to Nazi victims, running effective educational,
restorative and commemorative programs, it is also true that Germany’s
pursuit and conviction of its own Nazi transgressors has been not as
impressive. Though German courts investigated more than 100,000 cases,
only some 6,500 accused were convicted and, of these, most received
light sentences. Not long ago Germany passed legislation that
effectively provided amnesty from prosecution for German Nazis,
including SS concentration camp commanders and their German
subordinates. But the amnesty did not include Untermenschen like
That fact alone makes it hard to believe that this case is not a show
trial. Consider the charge itself. Demjanjuk is charged not with war
crimes or crimes against humanity, nor even of murder, but of being an
accessory to murder. Not murder in Germany, but in Sobibor, that is to
say, in Poland. Not as a high-level official, but as a low-ranking
guard. Not as a German, but as a Ukrainian. Not of one or a few victims
-- but of 29,700 victims! Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein
Kampf of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone
“could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” It seems
almost as if this is the approach being used by the prosecutors in
Munich and that German descendants appear ready to buy it once again
Two key issues
For 30 years, Demjanjuk has maintained his innocence. Yet now, the
German prosecutors who say that he was present in Sobibor will use a
Travniki identity card to attempt to prove this claim and will argue
that he was a volunteer there. While it is impossible in the context of
an article like this to thoroughly deal with these charges, nonetheless
they deserve at least some comment.
In the book Defending Ivan the Terrible, Yoram Sheftel, the Israeli
defense attorney in the successful Demjanjuk appeal, points out that --
from the very beginning -- American authorities with the help of
Israeli police prepared “photo spreads” to be presented to Sobibor
survivors in which Demjanjuk’s picture was included for identification.
Sheftel indicates that “all 10 Sobibor survivors in Israel, who were
shown the photographs, recognized neither Demjanjuk nor Federenko as
someone from the Sobibor death camp. Thus, at that early stage, it was
clear that the Soviet plot to present Demjanjuk as a former guard at
the Sobibor death camp was totally unfounded.”
So far as is known there is no witness who can establish that Demjanjuk
even harmed someone, much less murdered anyone. Only one statement
taken by the Soviet KGB secret police of a Sobibor guard named
Danylchenko indicated that Demjanjuk was also there. Danylchenko later
indicated he was tortured by the KGB and has since died without ever
being cross-examined. That is the extent of the known German
prosecution evidence on presence.
With regard to the Travniki card, Sheftel indicates that on Jan. 23,
1987, the original Travniki document that purports to indicate that
Demjanjuk was in Sobibor was provided for examination to the German
police force’s main criminal-identification laboratory in Weisbaden,
known as BKA. The laboratory analysts indicated that even after a
cursory examination, it was evident that the document was a forgery.
They pointed out that the face in the photograph which the prosecution
in Israel had identified as Demjanjuk’s had been posted on to the
uniform using photo-montage techniques. The picture was not originally
attached to the card, but had been transferred from another document.
There was no match between the seal on the Travniki picture and that on
the document itself. Further German analysis was stopped by the
Israelis with this initial report.
The Travniki document was also the subject matter of the evidence of
Julius Grant, the world’s foremost forensic expert and the man who
revealed the forgeries of the “Mussolini diaries” and the “Hitler
Having analyzed all the known signatures of Demjanjuk in the years 1947
to 1986, Grant testified that the Demjanjuk signature on the card
differed from all the others in the way the Ds and Ms were formed and
in the fact that in all other signatures the writing was continuous but
on the card it was not. Further, Grant pointed out that there were two
holes in the right side of the picture on the card whilst on the paper
under the holes in the photograph there were no holes. Judging by the
purple ink found inside the holes which was similar to ink used by the
KGB and the nature of the spacing of the holes, Grant concluded it was
more logical to assume that the photograph was unstapled from some
other Soviet documents and attached to the card in the Soviet Union,
than that it was attached in Travniki in 1942.
Israeli officials refused to allow Grant to detach the photo from the
card to make a conclusive finding, but he nonetheless concluded his
evidence by saying that “the Travniki document cannot be an authentic
document belonging to the defendant Demjanjuk.”
As for the contention that non-German guards in Nazi concentration
camps were volunteers, the evidence indicates that basically such
Wachmaener were chosen by the Germans based on physical fitness and
told they could either become camp guards or remain in prisoner of war
camps where they were mistreated or died. Those who tried to escape
were shot. What choice is there in these alternatives? This assumes
that the prosecution can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that
Demjanjuk was in Sobibor in the first place. This is a tall order to
A fair trial
According to the book Letters from Nuremberg, Tom Dodd, one of the key
prosecutors who sought to bring leading Nazis to justice, indicates
that prosecutors were as concerned about making sure that the trials
were fair as they were about convicting the accused.
So far, there is little evidence that this is true in the case of
Demjanjuk. In fact, in their zeal to appease his adversaries,
prosecutors in Munich appear to be ready to abandon the rule of law and
all reason. For this reason, the Demjanjuk trial is not just another
Nazi war crime trial, but it is a dangerous moment in German history.
In considering the effects of the Holocaust, we are often reminded of
philosopher George Santayana’s admonition that “those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We are reminded that in
1933, Germany targeted the Jews as scapegoats for the nation’s
political and economic problems. World leaders, including those who
professed concern for reason and the rule of law, looked on in silence.
Today the German leadership appears to be targeting Demjanjuk, and
other untermenschen like him as scapegoats to slough off German guilt
for what happened in the concentration camps of World War II. The
question is whether the German people, and those who today profess
concern for reason and the rule of law, will look on in silence again?
In the end, this is not so much a trial of Demjanjuk as it is a trial
of modern-day Germany.
Andriy J. Semotiuk is an attorney, with a practice in
international law dealing with immigration. He is a member of the bars
of California and New York in the United States and Ontario, Alberta
and British Columbia in Canada. A former United Nations correspondent
in New York, Mr. Semotiuk is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club and
resides in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[W.Z. As of
this writing, there were 55 comments to this article -- most of them by
anonymous "Guests" making inane comments about anti-semitism,
Ukrainophobia and racism. We would like to commend B. Woronchak for
having the courage to use his real name.]
b woronchak, Guest |
Three days ago at 21:35
What disgusts me almost as much as these phony charges is the lack of support
for Demjanjuk amongst the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Canada. My member of
Parliament received numerous telephone calls from me about the matter but she is
apparently too busy having her photo taken with all kinds of non-white
immigrants to respond. Telephone calls to offices of both the Ukrainian Catholic
and Ukrainian Orthodox churches were met with silence. And we wondered why we
could not have freedom in our own country for 400 years?
Guest, Guest | Three days ago at 22:42
Hey b woronchak, you're dragging your family name through the mud by affixing
it to racist rants like this. So you've got a problem with non-whites, huh?
Shame on you! As a Ukrainian, I am embarrassed that there are people like you
that make us look bad to the rest of the world.
b woronchak, Guest | Two days ago at 07:47
I have a problem with governments, politicians and bureaucrats that pander to
"special interest groups" for votes while taxing the rest of us "second class
citizens" to death to pay for their favors. If I was a racist, it would be my
business - not yours, a government's or anyone else's. I lived through decades
of being called a "bohunk". I don't give a damn what some spoiled, guilt ridden
upper class brat with a B.A. in Psychology calls me.