Haaretz | 29Nov2009 | Assaf Uni
How a simple internet search led to Demjanjuk indictment
BERLIN - One of the key figures responsible for the indictment of John
(Ivan) Demjanjuk in Germany will not be at the Munich courthouse when
Demjanjuk appears there Monday for the first time, to be tried in the
murder of 27,900 Jews.
Despite the crucial role that German jurist Thomas Walther played in
bringing Demjanjuk to justice, he now prefers to remain in the
background of the highly publicized affair.
Demjanjuk is standing trial for his alleged actions while serving as a
guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in 1942-1943.
Walther is one of the key figures behind the decision to try Demjanjuk,
who will be the first non-German alleged Nazi collaborator to stand
trial in a German court.
His quest to bring Demjanjuk to justice began with a simple online
search, he said.
is pure disinformation. It is well documented that the U.S. Office of
Special Investigations (OSI) and Efraim Zuroff of the Wiesenthal Center
lobbied various European countries to which accept Mr. Demjanjuk. They
finally found willing collaborators in Germany.]
Walther -- who spoke to Haaretz last summer, after Demjanjuk was
extradited to Germany from the U.S. -- said he began looking into
Demjanjuk as an investigator for the Central Office for the
Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg.
The 66-year-old ex-judge had been looking into alleged war crimes by
two other suspects, Elfriede Rinckel and Paul Henss, suspected guards
at Nazi concentration camps. During the course of the investigation, he
asked his American counterpart from the Justice Department's Office of
Special Investigations, Eli Rosenbaum, for details about suspects
living in the U.S. to see whether they could be tried in Germany.
In the course of this correspondence, Rosenbaum told Walther that
Germany had never indicted non-German SS collaborators, claiming it did
not have jurisdiction to do so. Walther says this led him to try and
find ways to change this.
In February 2008, Walther says he came across Demjanjuk's name on the
Justice Department's Web site while reading the verdict from
Demjanjuk's appeal against his deportation to Germany, which the 6th
Circuit of Appeal rejected.
The whole process revolved around technicalities, such as whether a
lower judge should have disqualified himself, Walther said. The central
issue of whether Demjanjuk was a guard in Sobibor, as well as the
history of the extermination camps and the Holocaust, simply didn't
Recognizing that German law allows for German jurisdiction in cases
involving German murder victims, Walther began searching for
compatriots who were killed in Sobibor.
Walther finally found evidence of German victims among the Jews who
were transported by train to Sobibor from the Westerbork concentration
camp in Holland.
Walther's office sought to raise its profile ahead of a visit to the
office by German President Horst Kohler that year, where journalists
were expected to inquire as to what actions have been taken to bring
Demjanjuk to justice, as Walther once told the German publication Die
Walther said that the Ludwigsburg office, headed by Kurt Schrimm,
initiated the process that led to Demjanjuk's indictment.
[W.Z. Will Walther and Schrimm go down in history as two self-hating Germans, who sold their souls to the OSI?]
To further strengthen his case, Walther sought to show that Demjanjuk
was a German resident after WWII. Though Demjanjuk initially lived in
refugee camps, his last address before emigrating for the U.S. in 1952
was listed as Feldafing near Munich. And so Walther showed up
unannounced at the municipality one day to try to find records of
Demjanjuk's stay there. He made an interesting discovery there.
In an interview with a city official in 1952, Demjanjuk said he had
spent the war in a place called "Sobobor." The notorious extermination
camp Sobibor was relatively unknown in 1952, Walther explained. The
name "Sobobor," he says, is almost certainly the result of a
mistranscription on the part of the city clerk, possibly caused by
Demjanjuk's Ukrainian accent.
It is far more likely, as Mr. Demjanjuk claims, that the UNRA(?)
official, who filled out his immigration form, misheard the village
name of "Sambir" (or "Sambor" in Russian) and wrote down "Sobobor",
because he was familiar with that name from Jewish underground
propaganda. Sobibor is in Poland, whereas Sambir is in Western Ukraine.
To avoid being focibly repatriated back to the Soviet Union under the
infamous Yalta Agreement, many Ukrainian refugees from Eastern Ukraine
claimed that they were born in Western Ukraine (ruled by Poland before
the war). Mr. Walther is deliberately misleading Mr. Uni, who in
turn is misleading the reader, by not referring to this fact.]
That document from Feldafing's city archive is part of the file that
Walther's unit gave the Munich prosecution team, with a recommendation
to indict him. The German supreme court later ruled that the
prosecution did indeed have jurisdiction to do so, creating a precedent
that prompted the Ludwigsburg Central Office for the Investigation of
Nazi Crimes to initiate more probes against non-German suspected