CLEVELAND, May 29,2001 — The government said Tuesday it would present an identification card, work rosters and other documents to prove that retired autoworker John Demjanjuk was a Nazi death camp guard who lied about his past to get into the United States.
DEMJANJUK, 81, was not present at the first day of his federal trial, in which the Justice Department is seeking, for a second time, to strip the Ukrainian-born man of his U.S. citizenship.
Justice Department attorney Edward A. Stutman said evidence would focus on seven documents that included references to a man with the same birthdate, birthplace and description, including a scar matching Demjanjuk’s.
“It is as clear as the scar on the defendant’s back,” Stutman told U.S. District Judge Paul R. Matia.
The trial comes 20 years after Demjanjuk, accused of helping the Nazis during World War II, first lost his citizenship. That case eventually led to a death sentence in Israel before Demjanjuk was acquitted in 1993 of being the Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible.”
This time the Justice Department intends to offer documentary evidence that Demjanjuk was a Ukrainian who became a Nazi guard at death camps and forced labor camps, mostly in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Lead defense attorney Michael Tigar told the judge that he would prove that the case against Demjanjuk amounts to mistaken identity and “trial by archive.”
He said the height and dental work listed on the government’s documents did not match Demjanjuk’s.
“The government cannot meet its burden of proof,” Tigar said.
Tigar didn’t specify whether Demjanjuk would attend any of the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
After opening statements Tuesday, Gideon Epstein, a forensic document examiner from McLean, Va., testified that he had examined documents in the case in 1981 at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, again in 1987 in Jerusalem and last year in Moscow and Berlin.
He said the documents had not been altered in any way over the last 20 years.
One document allegedly indicated that Demjanjuk was assigned in 1943 to the Sobibor, Poland, camp where guards forced Jews from trains into gas chambers.
Demjanjuk has denied that he ever helped the Nazis.
He contends that he served in a Soviet army artillery unit, was captured in 1942 and remained in German prisoner-of-war camps, mostly in Chelm, Poland.
His defense will include an argument that someone else from Ukraine, possibly a cousin also named Ivan Demjanjuk, could have been a Nazi guard. His lawyers also have suggested that someone could have used his name without his knowledge, an argument prosecutors have ridiculed.
Questioned by Tigar, Epstein acknowledged that he could not say whether it was Demjanjuk’s signature on an off-duty pass, one of the documents. But Epstein said not all service passes included the holder’s signature. Epstein also acknowledged that two of the documents were dated 1948, three years after the end of World War II.
Demjanjuk became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1958, changed his first name to John - English for Ivan — and quietly settled into Cleveland’s Ukrainian community. He worked at a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant and raised two girls and a boy.
Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 when a judge determined that Demjanjuk and the murderous Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka were the same person.
Demjanjuk eventually was convicted in Israel of crimes against humanity and awaited a death sentence. But Israel’s Supreme Court acquitted him in 1993 after concluding that Ivan the Terrible was likely someone else, a Ukrainian named Ivan Marchenko.
The same year, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that the Justice Department had fraudulently withheld evidence, and it reversed its own order authorizing Demjanjuk’s extradition in 1986.
His U.S. citizenship was restored in 1998. The Justice Department filed its new complaint in 1999.
Since his return from Israel nearly eight years ago, Demjanjuk has returned to his modest suburban home, where he lives with his wife, Vera.