Christian Science Monitor | 14Apr2009 | Graham Stack [Contributor]
In Demjanjuk's Ukrainian
hometown, memories linger of an infamous son
the accused death-camp guard was stayed Tuesday [14Apr2009].
Ukraine - When news broke that suspected Nazi war criminal
John Demjanjuk would be deported to Germany to face charges of
accessory to murder in 29,000 cases, this tiny hamlet, deep in
Ukraine's impoverished countryside, had special reason to take note.
Mr. Demjanjuk had been expected to be flown by private jet tonight [8:15 p.m. 14Apr2009] to
Germany. But a federal court, late Tuesday afternoon, stayed the order
until it could further review the case.
Exactly what days was Graham Stack in Dubovye Makharintsy and Ukraine?
Exactly when did he interview these villagers? Does he speak Ukrainian
or Russian? This seems to be a special effort to involve Ukraine in the
Demjanjuk controversy. The paragraph above seems out of place with the
rest of the article.
1933, during the time of the Holodomor, pro-Soviet W.H. Chamberlin and
his Russian-speaking wife made a 10-day tour the famine-stricken areas
of the Soviet Union on behalf of the Christian Science Monitor.]
Eighty-nine years ago this month, he was here in Dubovye Makharinsty, a
farming village about 100 miles west of Kiev. He grew up in the village
and worked on the collective farm before joining the Soviet Army to
fight Nazi invaders. He was wounded and then taken prisoner by the
What happened then depends on whom you believe.
Demjanjuk asserts he remained a prisoner of the Germans until the end
of the war, when he emigrated to the United States and changed his name
from Ivan to John. Documents as well as the mark under his left arm,
where an SS number might have been tattooed, incriminate him as a Nazi
The 30-year investigation into Demjanjuk's past, including the dramatic
1993 reversal of an Israeli death sentence, means that the villagers in
this downtrodden town are well aware of their most infamous son.
Marusya Lavrinuk, who is two years younger than Demjanjuk, was the
proverbial "girl next door" in their adolescence. On a recent day, Ms.
Lavrinuk pointed to where the Demjanjuks' cottage stood near to her own
"Yes, I remember Ivan as a boy," she says. "He seemed a normal lad,
except taller than most. He drove the tractor."
Tough times for a young 'Ivan the Terrible'
Lavrinuk and Ivan Demjanjuk belong to a generation blighted in their
youth by a series of unimaginable catastrophes.
The first, in 1932-33, was the man-made famine known in Ukraine as the
Holodomor. It decimated the rural population as Soviet authorities
confiscated scarce grain.
Five years after the famine came the 1937 Stalinist purges. A memorial
plaque in the village lists 22 villagers as having been executed.
The war arrived in 1941. Lavrinuk says she remembers the day German
tanks rolled into the village. She reacted with silence to further
questions about the invasion: the village war memorial lists four men
with her surname and an incredible total of 120 dead, which constituted
the vast majority of men from the village.
Among the dead are two Demjanjuks, both relatives of Ivan, and a
reminder how Ivan Demjanjuk might easily have died a hero's death
fighting the Nazis.
Instead, prosecutors allege that, in 1942, Demjanjuk was captured and
recruited to the ranks of the notoriously cruel Ukrainian SS
auxiliaries. He zealously participating in mass killings of Jews in
Ukraine as well as in Poland's Treblinka and Sobibor death camps.
Before the war, when the Soviets established collective farms,
Demjanjuk was the tractor driver for his village's operation. He was
reputed to be good with engines.
'Why won't they leave him in peace?'
Nazi crimes were perpetuated against Jews throughout Ukraine, but the
brunt of the pogrom was experienced in cities and towns, where much of
Jewish life was centered. In Dubovye Makharintsy, there's not much open
sympathy for the thousands who might have suffered under Demjanjuk's
Only about 300 people, many of them elderly, live in this crumbling
farming village, where horse carts remain a common form of
transportation. Demjanjuk's former neighbors express confusion
surrounding the generation-long saga of his war-crimes prosecution.
Here, he is seen more of a victim of a witch hunt than a perpetrator of
"They cleared him once already," Lavrinuk says. "What do they want with
him now? Why won't they leave him in peace?"
Demjanjuk was originally tried in Israel as the sadistic Ukrainian
guard at the Treblinka death camp known as "Ivan the Terrible." He was
sentenced to death in 1988, and then sensationally acquitted in 1993 on
account of mistaken identity.
Six years ago, a US judge revoked Demjanjuk's citizenship based on
evidence that he concealed his past work at the Nazi camps. In 2005, an
immigration judge decreed that he could be deported to Ukraine, Poland,
Confusion reigns in small
The original Demjanjuk house burned down after the war, explains
Marusya's current neighbor, Nikolai Grigorivich, whose house now stands
on the site.
Asked his opinion of Demjanjuk, Mr. Grigorivich says, "he might have
been a bad man, but he did not do me any harm, so I don't have strong
feelings. And what's the point of putting such an old man on trial?"
One thing in particular rankles the villagers.
"What I don't understand," asks Grigorivich, "is how can it be right
that the Germans are trying a Ukrainian for murdering Jews, and not the
other way round?"