predilection to becoming
distracted from what I should be doing, I just submitted my comment
the New Yorker at
It will prove instructive to examine what Vasily Grossman had to say in 1944 about what is referred to above as the "particularly murderous and brutal Treblinka guard nicknamed Ivan the Terrible" for whose crimes John Demjanjuk came close to being hanged in Israel. Vasily Grossman was in a position to know about Ivan the Terrible, perhaps in a better position to know than anybody before or since, as upon arriving at Treblinka with the Red Army, he was able to locate 40 camp survivors, some still hiding in nearby forests, all of whom he was able to interview on the spot, along with local Polish peasants.
In his own words:
Everything written below has been compiled from the accounts of living witnesses, from the testimony of people who worked in Treblinka from the first day of the camp's existence until 02 August 1943 when the doomed prisoners rose up, burned the camp to the ground, and fled into the woods, according to the testimony of an apprehended Watchman which confirmed every word, and often supplemented, the narratives of the witnesses. These people I met with personally, spoke with at length and in detail, and now have their written depositions lying before me on the table. And all these numerous testimonies flowing from various sources, converge and corroborate each other in every particular, from their description of the habits of the kommandant's dog Bari to their account of the technology of the murder of the victims and of the automation of the machinery of death. (Vasily Grossman, The Hell Called Treblinka, 1944, Paragraph 22)
And what does Vasily Grossman tell us about the notorious Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka? Why absolutely nothing! He seems to have never heard of any such person. He describes many sadistic monsters, but not one of them is called Ivan the Terrible, or even just plain Ivan, and not one of them is Ukrainian. In fact, in his entire account of Treblinka he uses the word "Ukrainian" exactly once within a list of artifacts found in Treblinka soil, among these being fragments of "Ukrainian embroidery," and he uses the word "Ukraine" exactly once in the context "taken to Ukraine to work in agriculture." If Ukrainians played any role in Treblinka, Vasily Grossman seems to think that it is a role not worth mentioning.
And Grossman is not alone in having overlooked the notorious monster Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. In his The Destruction of the European Jews: Revised and Definitive Edition, preeminent Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg expresses no awareness of any Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka either, or of any Ukrainian monster at Treblinka, going by the name of Ivan the Terrible or by any other name.
And neither does Gerald Reitlinger give any credence to the existence of any Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka in The Final Solution, and neither does William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and neither does Konnilyn Feig in Hitler's Death Camps, and neither does Martin Gilbert in Atlas of the Holocaust, and neither does Yitzhak Arad in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and neither does Tom Segev in Soldiers of Evil, and neither does Simon Wiesenthal in Justice not Vengeance, and neither does Leni Yahil in The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945, and neither does Ronnie Landau in The Nazi Holocaust, and neither does Jean-Francois Steiner in Treblinka -- to name but a few.
I do not wish to belabor the point, but on the remote possibility that anyone who reads this may still remain unconvinced, let us look finally at Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness which was based on her extensive interviews of Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka himself. And wouldn't you know it -- Franz Stangl seems unaware of any Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka either.
To make a long story short, Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, for whose crimes John Demjanjuk came close to being hanged in Israel, is fictitious. There is not a Holocaust scholar on earth who credits the story. Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka was invented by John Demjanjuk persecutors in the 1970s to facilitate getting John Demjanjuk hanged.
As John Demjanjuk is today recognized as never having set foot in Treblinka, and as there never was any Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, then all the putative eyewitnesses that identified him with absolute certainty as having been Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka lied. It follows, therefore, that it is possible that some or all of the witnesses that testified against John Demjanjuk in Munich might have lied as well, and therefore should have been subjected to cross-examination, but were not. The closest that I can remember any Munich witness came to being challenged was when one claimed to be in possession of a letter that had been thrown by a relative from a death train, and which miraculously made its way to him. When a judge asked that the letter be handed up to him, the witness showed signs of distress, and the judge immediately apologized and handed the letter back. If the Munich proceedings had been anything better than a show trial, that letter would have been subjected to forensic examination to determine its authenticity.
The debunking of the myth of Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka can be read in greater detail at
BLURB BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN DEMJANJUK, SO FAR http://www.xoxol.org/dem/blurb.html
AN EMAIL FROM LUBOMYR PRYTULAK TO ALLAN A. RYAN, JR.
And there is one more thing that should be kept in mind in any discussion of John Demjanjuk, and that is that the document linking him to Sobibor, the Trawniki ID Card, is indisputably a KGB forgery, as is demonstrated in the following articles:
"Demjanjuk" signature on the Trawniki ID Card is forged, to conceal
John Demjanjuk persecutors have rendered it illegible www.xoxol.org/traw/forge.html
(2) It was not the German military but the Russian KGB that glued the photograph of John Demjanjuk to the Trawniki ID Card www.xoxol.org/traw/photo.html
(3) Trawniki ID
Card 1393 breaks the unwritten rule that outside and inside stamps must
(4) Beaded and unbeaded lines within a single stamp-imprint indicate forgery, as does hand-inscription overtop of a lightly-inked template www.xoxol.org/traw/closer.html
forgery factories compromise the Russian archives www.xoxol.org/traw/iliukhin.html
(6) By the time the Demjanjuk photograph was attached to the Trawniki ID Card, the photograph was already old and worn www.xoxol.org/traw/dog-eared.html
in the duty-roster area of the Trawniki ID Card could be manifestations
of MGB translator Z. Bazilevskaya's disaffection with Bolshevism www.xoxol.org/traw/bazilevskaya.html
(8) Two gratuitous and ostentatious patches on Trawniki ID Card 1393 could be further manifestations of MGB translator Z. Bazilevskaya's disaffection with Bolshevism www.xoxol.org/traw/streibel.html
(9) The Trawniki Id Card was never tightly folded, and shows erosion where there should be none www.xoxol.org/traw/creases.html
(10) Stamp imprints lying on both photograph and card do not correspond and cannot be made to correspond www.xoxol.org/traw/stewart.html
“It is moving that we are dealing today with the murder of a man who was born in 1848,” Ralph Alt, a judge in Munich, Germany, said Thursday [12May2011]. Moving, maybe, but in more than one direction. The victim in question was a man in his nineties, killed in the Sobibor concentration camp in 1943. The man convicted of being an accessory to his murder, and those of twenty-eight thousand other people, in a decision handed down in a courtroom in Munich Thursday, was John Demjanjuk.
It is possible to remember and forget Demjanjuk many times; one turns a corner in the news and he’s popped up again, with some reversal in his story. First, he was the retired Cleveland autoworker exposed, despite his denials, as a particularly murderous and brutal Treblinka guard nicknamed Ivan the Terrible. That was in 1976, when a good many Germans who had been Nazis, and often prominent ones, were in their late fifties or sixties, and at the heights of their careers. In 1988, an Israeli court sentenced him to death. In 1993, in what was, in fact, a moving affirmation of the rule of law, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned that conviction, finding that it had been a case of mistaken identity. Then one could be forgiven for really forgetting about him for a few years; he went back to Cleveland. U.S.-government lawyers were building a new case, though, alleging that he wasn’t a sadistic guard at Treblinka but a low-ranking Wachmann at Sobibor. In 2005, he lost his citizenship for the second time. Three years later, the Germans stepped up, and asked that he be extradited there.
German prosecutors decided to file the twenty-eight-thousand or so murder-accessory charges because that was the number of people, mostly Jews from Holland, who died in Sobibor between March and September, 1943. (The exact number, as one of the Germans told Esquire, was subject to some tweaking and rounding.) The prosecution did not allege any specific act, only that Demjanjuk was in Sobibor and so were they; and that they were killed, if not by him than by those he supported with his work, while he survived.
What stops one, in looking at the Demjanjuk trial, is not any disputed fact, but a point on which both the prosecution and the defense are in complete agreement. Demjanjuk was a Ukrainian soldier in the Soviet Red Army, fighting against the Germans -- killing Nazis -- through 1942. Then he was taken prisoner, when he was twenty-two, and put in one of Hitler’s prisoner-of-war camps, places where people like him faced ill-treatment, hunger, disease, and a high death rate. (Again, there is no disagreement about this.) The prosecution says he got out of the P.O.W. camp by willingly volunteering to work as a guard at a death camp, knowing full well what that involved, and that the S.S. trained him. The defense won’t concede that he was at Sobibor, but says that, if he was, he was there as, essentially, a forced laborer. (The I.D. papers the prosecution produced say that he was ordered there.) No one says he was a member of the Nazi party. So the Germans convicted a man they once held prisoner for helping them kill their other prisoners.
The legal theory that Demjanjuk was prosecuted under -- that it was enough to prove he’d been at the camp -- was a new one. “This case is a door opener,” one German prosecutor told the A.P. He said that his office had “‘a lot’ of cases that have been investigated, but shelved, which could now be reopened.” Of course, calling this a pioneering case is another way of saying that Germans haven’t, until now, been prosecuted for doing what Demjanjuk did. Was it some particular malevolence on Demjanjuk’s part that pushed the Germans to adopt this new approach? Or was it the decades that elapsed -- decades in which the Germans, no doubt, have engaged in some valuable introspection, but also in which most of the people who might have been similarly prosecuted have died? It is easier to return to a cold-case file, with a new and un-conflicted sense of purpose, when you won’t be inconveniencing the living -- businessmen, politicians -- or have to get past their protectors. Demjanjuk, who is now ninety-one, was let out of jail pending an appeal, but he himself won’t live long. The trial took a couple of years because the court decided, due to his poor health, to keep most of the proceedings to an hour and a half a day. Demjanjuk was rolled into the courtroom on a hospital bed, as if he were a corpse in a medical-school lecture hall.
I wish that I wasn’t troubled by the Demjanjuk case. I am a fool for stories of historic justice, even, or even especially, after long lapses of time. One would like, as Alt says, to simply be moved, and wonder at the arc of history. But this is a bit of a strange one. It would be good to open those old, shelved files (they should never have been closed) and John Demjanjuk may be guilty of crimes his prosecutors can only guess at -- which, in part, is what they’ve done. I don’t feel sympathy for him, so much as a profound hesitation about seeing this prosecution as a grand triumph. Should all this be a subject for self-congratulation, on anyone’s part?
Photograph: The I.D. card that the prosecution offered in the case. Wikimedia Commons