Russian TV | 30Nov2009 | Yoram Sheftel interview
My client isn’t Nazi criminal –
man dubbed “Satan’s lawyer” speaks out
John Demjanjuk is now on trial in Germany for war crimes against Jews.
RT spoke to Yoram Sheftel, the lawyer who defended him in Israel, and
he explained what made him believe Demjanjuk was not a Nazi criminal.
RT: Thank you very much
for joining us. What made you decide to take the case?
Yoram Sheftel: I took the case because I was convinced right from the
beginning that there is no credible evidence to tie Demjanjuk to the
Holocaust generally speaking, and specifically to Treblinka. And also I
had an interview with him for about two and a half hours before I made
my final decision, and from that interview I became fully convinced
that the man never put his foot in Treblinka.
RT: You never thought he
was Ivan the Terrible and as you say you met with him and you write in
your book that he was the simplest of individuals with quite limited
intellectual capacity, you say he had a very bad memory. But how do you
know he wasn’t acting?
YS: [There is a] very simple test which I’m astonished as a Jew and an
Israeli that our Israeli Jewish police and our Israeli Jewish
prosecution didn't use. I was mentioning time and again the Yiddish
word to Demjanjuk of “Gevalt”, which is the word that Jews, when forced
to go to the gas chamber, were shouting in Yiddish. I was fully
convinced that it was the first time he had heard this word.
RT: What does “Gevalt”
YS: Gevalt – kind of… Yiddish is a non-translatable language, but
“gevalt” is something horrible is going to happen and cry of
RT: You have been
typecast as Satan’s lawyer and sometimes described as “the most
hated man in Israel”. How do you respond to these accusations? Did you
not feel that in some way you were perhaps a traitor to your own people
for defending someone like him?
YS: I defended him because I was convinced that he isn’t a Nazi. I
didn’t dispute the Holocaust, I didn’t dispute that 900,000 Jews were
slaughtered in Treblinka and I didn’t dispute any of the crimes
attributed to Ivan the Terrible. I disputed only one fact -- the man is
not Ivan the Terrible. That was my case, nothing else.
RT: You have been
accused of taking the case to favor your own political career. And you
once wrote that “Joining the defense was the wisest decision I have
ever taken in my life.” What is your defense against your critics?
YS: First of all, I really don’t know where this political matter came
from, because I never had, I don’t have and I shall never have any
political career. Second, I think it’s the worst thing you can think of
if you think about political career becoming the lawyer of someone like
Ivan the Terrible, so it’s actually the first time that I have heard
about my political aspirations as far as joining this case.
Yes, definitely, it was the wisest decision, since it’s one of the most
important cases of the 20th century. And I think rarely prosecutors
were defeated so heavily and so unequivocally and also it was possible
to show how all of them, I mean the Americans and the Israelis, were
first and foremost dishonest. This case is not a case of mistaken
identity, this case – as was ruled by the Federal Court of Appeal of
the Six Circuit – is a case of fraud on the court, because all
throughout the proceedings they knew that Demjanjuk is not Ivan the
Terrible, based on the very same evidence that in the end of the day I
discovered and are the basis of his acquittal.
RT: Why? Why was it so
important for them to convict him?
YS: Very simple. This is a typical bureaucratic blunder. The OSI was
established in 1976, very short time afterwards they discovered Ivan
the Terrible. Within months they became a whole big apparatus with big
government funding, employees, bosses and whatever. And when twelve
months later the Soviets told them: Look, you got it all wrong. And
they sent them the material which proves that Ivan the Terrible is not
Ivan Demjanjuk. Then they simply concealed it because they simply
didn't what to decrease the size of their bureaucratic empire. It’s as
simple as that. And then other bodies for political and other reasons
collaborated with them, and specifically of course Israel, which
thought that the Demjanjuk case would be the second Eichmann trial.
RT: Yes, the only person
ever to be hanged in Israel was Adolf Eichmann. Do you think that in
this case Israel was seeking justice with Demjanjuk or do you think it
was just another Nazi show trial?
YS: Maybe both at the beginning, but when they found out that there is
a mistake instead of admitting the mistake and asking forgiveness of
all those who were hurt and injured because of this mistake, they chose
to proceed with this farce.
RT: Why do you think
Israel decided to proceed?
YS: Because they, our legal establishment, could not and were not able
to admit the mistake. I state in the book as one of the reasons I took
the case was in order to take on our legal establishment which I was
sick and tired of already over twenty years ago.
RT: You did write in
your book “The Demjanjuk Affair: the Rise and Fall of a Show Trial”
that the Israeli judicial system is an oxymoron.
YS: Yes, but I must say, that I’m an Israeli and I perform in Israeli
courts, but I don’t think that our legal justice system is worse even
in one inch than in other Western democratic legal systems. On the
contrary, I don't think in the US, whatever happens even with the new
evidence, an American or someone that will be accused of killing
900,000 Americans in gas chambers even with the evidence of Demjanjuk
will not be acquitted. and the same will not happen in England and in
France and any country of the world. At the end of the day, with all my
harsh criticism of our legal establishment, I think it’s the only court
of law in the world that would acquit Demjanjuk.
RT: Did the Demjanjuk
trial change the Israeli system in any way?
YS: Not at all. It didn’t leave any doubt whatsoever, and it’s
horrible. After the Demjanjuk case they promoted – after he was
acquitted – they took two of the judges that sent him to the gallows
and promoted them to the Supreme Court.
RT: How did you win the
case? Was it based on the technicality?
YS: Not at all. I don’t think there has ever been a conviction in a
major trial in the 20th century completely crushed as the new evidence
which consisted of 80 statements in real time from 1944 till 1955 of 37
watchmen of Treblinka, interviewed and interrogated by the Soviet
Union. All of them pointed at Ivan Marchenko as one of the two
operators of the gas chambers. We have a picture of him, we have his
Nazi ID card and there is no resemblance, not in the way they look, not
in their age, not in their personal status, not in the place they
lived. It’s two totally different individuals that have nothing to do
one with the other.
RT: Who do you think is
Ivan the Terrible? Marchenko?
YS: We know exactly. We know exactly not only who Ivan the Terrible is,
but we also know exactly where to look for him. Because, with the
evidence I produced, there was one testimony of Treblinka watchman who
saw Ivan the Terrible in the north of Italy, north of Yugoslavia – the
border of Italy and Yugoslavia – in April 1945 saying he has no
intention whatsoever to go back to the Soviet Union. He had a
Yugoslavian ex-partisan girlfriend and he planned to settle in one of
the villages around of the city of Fiome. And since we produced this
evidence, no one tried to look for him there.
RT: But that seems
YS: You know why? As long as we don’t have the blood and the flesh or
the body or the bones of Ivan the Terrible, people can say “Yes, it’s
technicalities and so on and actually Demjanjuk is actually Ivan the
Terrible”. Once you found Ivan Marchenko even dead, you can’t say so
anymore. Therefore no one looks for him.
RT: So who do you think
YS: I don’t know. As I’m sure 100 % that he is not Ivan the Terrible
and I’m sure 100% that there is no credible evidence to prove any crime
connected with the Holocaust against him. I was not with him during the
war and maybe there is some evidence that can prove something against
him. Not the evidence that exists. The evidence that exists – the
Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it is not credible and cannot
guarantee conviction on prosecuting on any charge connected to the
RT: He is now being
tried in Germany. If he is found guilty of been a guard and killing
Jews, even if he’s not Ivan the Terrible, would it be something
difficult for you to come to terms with?
YS: Not at all because I know as a fact that nothing changed,
definitely not substantially in the evidence that existed against
Demjanjuk when after his acquittal is a fate was delivered again by our
Supreme Court and our General Attorney and now nothing happening
between or at all or definitely substantially as far as evidence is
concerned. Therefore exactly as the Israeli district court sent
Demjanjuk to the gallows as being Ivan the Terrible in the theater hall
that the case was conducted in, I won't be at all impressed due to a
decision of German court -- knowing myself the evidence myself -- that
Demjanjuk is a watchman of Sobibor or whatever.
RT: Yoram Sheftel. Thank
you very much for joining us on RT.
YS: Thank you.
[W.Z. An RT video of the interview of Yoram Sheftel is available at the following German link: