GazetteNET | 14Dec2010 | unknown
Amherst College professor a
witness to war-crimes trial of Nazi John Demjanjuk
AMHERST -- The trial of accused Nazi concentration camp guard John
Demjanjuk is a potential watershed moment in history, and an Amherst
College scholar has a front row seat to watch it.
Amherst professor Lawrence Douglas says Demjanjuk's trial, in Munich,
is likely to be the last high-profile Nazi war-crimes trial the world
will witness. It may also represent the last chance for Germany, as a
nation, to "get things right" when it comes to making legal redress for
the crimes of the Third Reich.
Holocaust Industry will always be able to find people like Lawrence
Douglas to write their propaganda pieces -- always demonizing Mr.
Demjanjuk and always highlighting Jewish victimization by others and
never mentioning Jewish victimization of others and of Mr. Demjanjuk.]
Douglas, 51, a professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at
Amherst, has been tracking the trial of Demjanjuk, a retired American
auto worker deported to Germany last year, since it began in December
2009, making half a dozen trips to Munich and writing accounts of the
trial for German media. He's also working on a longer piece that will
be published in Harper's magazine when the case concludes.
Even given Demjanjuk's advanced age -- he's 90 -- Douglas says the case
is a vital one.
"We need this trial precisely as a reminder of these crimes, the kinds
of atrocities that can take place when a democracy fails to be
vigilant," said Douglas, who has written extensively on how
international law responds to crimes against humanity. "A trial like
this allows us to maintain our vigilance, and to understand that the
past is never entirely the past."
Holocaust Industry "needs this trial precisely as a reminder of" who
holds the real power in the world today. "A trial like this allows us
to maintain our" genocidal policies against the Palestinians, in
particular and our Islamic enemies, in general. No one dares question
the criminal actions of the Office of Special Investigations and
of the Israeli prosecution in the trial of John Demjanjuk.]
The trial has dragged on due to Demjanjuk's health troubles and
scheduling conflicts with the German court. It also follows what
Douglas terms a "convoluted legal odyssey" that saw Demjanjuk sentenced
to death more than 20 years ago in Israel for a different set of
alleged war crimes, only to have his conviction overturned because of a
case of mistaken identity.
"It really has seemed at times like a story without a conclusion, but I
think the end may now be in sight," Douglas says. "And it does seem to
be a moment of some kind of reckoning."
Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine whose original first name was Ivan, now
faces charges for being an accessory to the murder of over 28,000 Jews
in the Nazi death camp at Sobibor, Poland, where prosecutors allege he
worked as a guard in 1943. He also worked as a guard at Majdanek,
another Nazi death camp in occupied Poland, prosecutors say, and later
at Flossenburg, a slave-labor camp in Germany where an estimated 30,000
Demjanjuk, who served with the Russian Army during World War II before
being captured by German forces in 1942, insists he spent the duration
of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. Prosecutors, though, have
produced an array of his old identity papers, one of which shows he
received training from the SS to become a camp guard. They allege it
was a service for which he likely volunteered.
Douglas believes German courts have done a poor job over the years
prosecuting ex-Nazis, in part because of legal decisions made in the
former West Germany in the 1950s that established very narrow
parameters for prosecuting people accused of crimes against humanity.
Douglas, who has lived and studied in Germany -- he spent a semester
last year at Humboldt University in Berlin as a visiting scholar -- said
German courts "have often allowed people to walk free, people who, at
least in my mind, should have been convicted."
society has failed miserably in exposing the war crimes, crimes
against humanity and the genocidal policies perpetrated against the
German people. And German courts have never prosecuted any of the
people responsible for these crimes.]
On the other hand, he said, "Germany in many ways has worked very
impressively to come to terms with its notorious history." Given that,
his sense is that many Germans see Demjanjuk's trial as a means of
bringing the country's legal response to the Third Reich in line with
its other efforts to atone for the past, even if it's essentially a
"The official line on the trial of most German newspapers is 'better
late than never,'" he said. "The idea is that even if he's 90 years
old, there's no statute of limitations for crimes of atrocity, and it's
good we're finally bringing this guy to justice."
The case against Demjanjuk goes back to the late 1970s, years after he
immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became an auto worker in
Ohio. U.S. immigration officials, tipped off in part by information
they received from the former Soviet Union, said he had concealed his
involvement in Nazi death camps on his immigration application. The
U.S. Justice Department requested Demjanjuk be stripped of his American
At the same time, Israeli investigators came to believe Demjanjuk was
actually Ivan Marchenko, otherwise known as "Ivan the Terrible," a
notoriously brutal Ukrainian guard who had worked at the Treblinka
death camp in Poland. In 1986, Demjanjuk was deported to Israel, where
he was tried as Ivan Marchenko and sentenced to death in 1988 for his
alleged crimes at Treblinka.
But in 1991, information surfaced that showed Demjanjuk had been
misidentified as Marchenko, whom Douglas says is now believed to have
died in combat in the Balkans late in World War II. In fact, a U.S.
Court of Appeals ruled in 1993 that U.S. investigators had been aware
of evidence that suggested Demjanjuk was not Marchenko but withheld it
from his lawyers and Israeli prosecutors.
The Israeli Supreme Court overturned Demjanjuk's conviction in 1993 and
took him off death row; he was returned to the United States, where his
citizenship was restored in 1998. "It was a major embarrassment for the
Israelis," says Douglas. "They try a guy they think is Ivan the
Terrible, and he turns out to be Ivan the Not So Hot."
However, Demjanjuk's reprieve was relatively brief, as U.S. officials
stripped him of his citizenship again in 2004 for concealing his
service at Sobibor and Flossenburg. He was deported to Germany last
The twists in the case and Demjanjuk's advanced age have created some
degree of misgivings in Germany about the trial, Douglas says. "I think
informally, some people feel he's been through a long legal ordeal. I
wouldn't call it sympathy, but there's some sense of irony that there
were Germans who escaped justice over the years, and now they're trying
this low-level Ukrainian guard."
Demjanjuk's trial in Germany has had some surreal moments, Douglas
notes. Despite pleas from the defendant and his lawyers that he's too
sick to be tried, Demjanjuk would sometimes sit this past summer "with
his hands behind his head, his knees crossed, wearing sunglasses, like
he was sunning himself on a beach," Douglas said. Most often, he said,
Demjanjuk comes into the courtroom in a wheelchair and then is propped
up in a sitting position on a hospital gurney, and he never speaks.
Douglas believes Demjanjuk and his lawyers have exaggerated his medical
woes to drag out the case. At one point, he said, Demjanjuk would open
and close his mouth soundlessly, his eyes closed, and at other times
he'd moan. But that behavior ended sometime ago.
"Someone must have pulled him aside and said, 'That's enough with the
moaning,'" Douglas said.
[W.Z. This is pure hate mongering against Mr. Demjanjuk.]
Douglas plans to return to Munich in March, when the trial is
tentatively scheduled to finish, or possibly sooner. "This needs to
come to a conclusion," he said.
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