Alan Dershowitz   Letter 13   11-Sep-2001   Judge Dov Levin's mistranslation

Prosecution star witness
Eliahu Rosenberg

Israeli Supreme Court judge
Dov Levin

Disinformation publicist
Alan Dershowitz
"The Levin-led attempt to win acceptance of a mistranslation demonstrates that your praise of the Israeli judiciary was either ignorant or duplicitous." Lubomyr Prytulak

11 September 2001
Alan M. Dershowitz
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law
520 Hauser Hall
Harvard Law School
1575 Massachusetts Avenue
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA   02138

Alan Dershowitz:

In the 1987-1988 Jerusalem trial of John Demjanjuk, putative Treblinka survivor Eliahu Rosenberg, darling of the prosecution, did not come without his flaws.  Among these flaws was the incongruity between (a) testifying that Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka was right there in front of him in the 1987 Jerusalem courtroom in the personage of John Demjanjuk, and (b) earlier gifting Jewish-holocaust industry representatives with several depositions stating that an Ivan (not "the Terrible" in these early statements just plain "Ivan") had been killed in the inmate uprising of 02-Aug-1943.

The prosecution squirmed every which way to remove this incongruity and to salvage Rosenberg's credibility.  The squirm that I particularly bring to your attention in the present letter has to do with one of these early Rosenberg depositions, the one made in Vienna on 24-Dec-1947, typed in German, with Eliahu Rosenberg signing every page, just as he signed the end of the document, as shown.

Within this 1947 Rosenberg deposition, the issue narrows down to the sentence below, shown first in photocopy, then transcribed into more legible German, and finally translated into English, and narrows down more particularly to the word erschlagen, which means "to kill", as can be verified in any German-English dictionary, as for example in the one online at dict.tu-chemnitz.de which defines erschlagen as "to strike dead" or "to slay", erschlugen being the past tense.  An official translation into Hebrew of this 1947 Rosenberg deposition had already been supplied to the Demjanjuk defense by the State of Israel, and that translation correctly represented erschlagen as meaning "to kill".  What was the judiciary-prosecution coalition, hell-bent on seeing John Demjanjuk hanged, to do with this inconvenient word which did so much to undermine Rosenberg's credibility?

Daraufhin stürzten einige Leute in die
Baracken der ukrainishen Wache, wo unter anderem auch der
Ukrainer Iwan schlief und erschlugen die Ukrainer mit Schaufeln.
After this, some of the people ran into the
barracks where Ukrainian guards were sleeping, among them was the
Ukrainian Ivan, and killed the Ukrainians with shovels.

One plan that the judges together with the prosecutors put into execution was to get that inconvenient word erschlagen re-translated and this time mistranslated as "to hit" or "to strike" or "to beat".  If Rosenberg had portrayed Ivan as only having been beaten during the fabled Treblinka uprising of 1943, then there would be less contradiction in having Ivan appear alive in the prisoner's dock in 1987.  If the defense accepted that mistranslation, and if the mistranslation was admitted into the court record as the official translation, then a step would have been taken in the direction of redeeming Rosenberg's credibility, or at least in muddying the waters enough that casual observers would have their view of Rosenberg's mendacity obscured.

But how to get the defense to accept an on-the-spot, off-the-cuff mistranslation?  Well, defense attorney Mark O'Connor posed no obstacle he spoke no Hebrew.  All he understood about what was going on in court was what the Israelis chose to feed him over his translation earphones, and what was fed could be delayed, muddled, incoherent, incomprehensible, incomplete, and even inaccurate, so as to elicit no suspicion on his part of the fraud that was being perpetrated upon him and upon his client.  So out of it were the Israelis able to keep Mark O'Connor, that part of their plan was to claim that it was Mark O'Connor himself who had requested a new, on-the-spot, off-the-cuff translation, and the court was only obliging him by presenting him with one, as it obliged him in all his requests.

That was the plan, and some of the conspirators stuck to the plan more tenaciously than others, as we shall presently see.  The only thing standing in the way of the plan was defense attorney Yoram Sheftel who was not listening to Mark O'Connor's earphones.  Yoram Sheftel was Israeli, and was following the court Hebrew live.  Here is how the plot unfolded, with my annotation added in red:

H.J. LEVIN:  Now please translate the passage read out from the witness's statement.  [Judge Levin is apparently addressing prosecution translator Mrs. Frost, who proceeds to mistranslate one must assume according to instructions that have been given her earlier the critical excerpt from Rosenberg's 1947 deposition as follows.]

"And then a number of people attacked and burst into the barracks on which the Ukranian guards were sleeping and amongst these was also the Ukranian Ivan.  And they beat them with shovels."

H.J. LEVIN:  What is your question?

SHAKED:  I have one request to Mrs. Frost.  With al due respect, to translate as literally, word for word, I will read it word for word.  [From what is said later, it appears to be prosecutor Michael Shaked who here offers his own stand-up mistranslation, without first presenting his qualifications as an expert in the German language, and without taking the stand as an expert witness.  Perhaps Shaked obtrudes himself in this way in order to protect Mrs. Frost from cross-examination which would reveal that she knows that erschlagen means "to kill".]

"Following which some people burst into the barracks of the Ukranians, of the Ukranian guards, where amongst others, there was also the Ukranian Ivan asleep, and hit them with shovels."

SHAKED:  [Addressing Rosenberg.  Friedman is Tuvia Friedman, who according to Rosenberg took his deposition.]  This is something that you said to Mr. Friedman.  Would you please explain.  How did you come to acount this part.  What had actually happened?

SHEFTEL:  [Defense attorney Yoram Sheftel has consulted the existing official Hebrew translation of Rosenberg's deposition, and corrects the mistranslation that Judge Dov Levin, translator Mrs. Frost, and prosecutor Michael Shaked are trying to substitute for the correct translation.]  According to the translation, it says, the translation that's before the defence, into Hebrew, it says they did not beat them, but that they killed them.

H.J. LEVIN:  [Levin pretends that the oral mistranslation being offered is somehow in compliance with a defense request.]  We are reading from the German as you wanted.  [Incessant audience interference in the proceedings, as I documented for you in several letters, occasionally calls forth from the court a snarl as toothless as it is pro forma.]  Silence in Court.

O'CONNOR:  [Mark O'Connor is miffed that when he had the floor on behalf of the defense, Yoram Sheftel nevertheless made an objection without consulting him.  Possibly O'Connor has not yet received a translation of Sheftel's Hebrew into English, and so as yet doesn't understand the reason for Sheftel's objection, and instead of concerning himself with finding out what is happening, prefers to vent his petulance.]  Very important, when my Honorable colleague gets up to make an objection and I am not aware of it, do it slowly, please.

H.J. LEVIN:  Yes, what would you like to say?

SHEFTEL:  I do not speak German well, Your Honor.  I have a translation of this passage that was just read out by Mr. Shaked.  It is the Defence's document.  The final sentence of that passage says, "they did not beat them, hit them, they killed them."

H.J. LEVIN:  [Levin here elbows Shaked aside to assume the role of prosecutor, demonstrating his committment to convicting John Demjanjuk Levin insists that the off-the-cuff mistranslation being offered by the prosecution be accepted, as if it was somehow in compliance with O'Connor's request.]  Your learned friend, Mr. O'Connor, requested that these statements be read from the German version.  The German source text.  Now we have read out from the German source text, and a word for word translation of this was done into Hebrew.  In accordance with the request of Mr. O'Connor we rely on what has been translated in court here.  Now if there is a difference between the German as it was translated in Court into Hebrew, as against what you have in the Hebrew version of the German in your possession.  We are now working according to the translation into Hebrew in court here.  And prefer it.

O'CONNOR:  We have a Hebrew translation provided by the State of Israel to the Defense, Your Honor.  We rely on that.


SHEFTEL:  Your Honor, I do know some German, but I am not proficient to express an opinion on the translation.  I am not an expert on the German language, to the point where I can be proficient.  I simply have to go by the Hebrew translation of the text that is said to come from the German and which was provided by the Government.  And that is where it said they were killed and not just beaten.

H.J. LEVIN:  [Levin will not quit.  He continues to insist that he is only following O'Connor's wishes, and that the proper thing to do is to start again with the original, and produce a fresh translation on the spot.  O'Connor himself is not insisting on any fresh, on-the-spot translation, and possibly is unaware that Judge Levin is doing so on his behalf.  It is understood that since nobody on the defense team is proficient in German, this on-the-spot translation is going to have to come from the prosecution.] Your learned colleague, Mr. O'Connor, requested that we put before you the German passage.  And just as any request of Mr. O'Connor's is being honored by me, so I honor this one as well and therefore, Mr. Shaked will take the German version, put it before you.

Have you got the original?

SHAKED:  [However, at this point even prosecutor Michael Shaked realizes that the scheme of on-the-spot mistranslation now being pursued more tenaciously by Judge Levin than by himself is not going to work, and so he attempts to put an end to it by acknowledging the correct translation.]  Yes, Your Honor, but I am trying to solve this problem.  In my humble opinion to erschlagen in German means to kill.  And that is why the translation into Hebrew had better be the Hebrew word killed.

H.J. LEVIN:  [Incredibly, though, Judge Levin won't stop.  He insists on going ahead with the plan that the original German be consulted, and that an on-the-spot mistranslation be accepted in preference to the existing official translation into Hebrew provided earlier by the State of Israel.  O'Connor possibly with only a dim understanding of what is going on is expected to continue playing the stooge who requested this on-the-spot mistranslation.]  Don't jump from one subject to another.  Mr. O'Connor has asked to see the original source text in German.  So please put the original before Mr. O'Connor.  [Mercifully, Levin's insistence that the on-the-spot mistranslation be accepted seems to be dropped at exactly this point.  Note that in Yoram Sheftel's absence, a trick that could have been played on O'Connor would be to translate erschlagen into Hebrew as "to beat", but to translate into O'Connor's earphones that that Hebrew was equivalent to the English "to kill", thus providing the judges with the tailored evidence they wanted on the official Hebrew transcript, while keeping the defense in the dark, at least until the verdict was published.]
State of Israel vs John Demjanjuk, 25-Feb-1987, pp. 1057-1059.  Errors and irregularities can be assumed to be in the original trial transcript, as for example, "with al due respect" "acount" and "Ukranian".

And so this particular lie ultimately miscarried.  The liars showed a childlike unconcern that the lie was palpable, and in any case would do them little good even if it succeeded there would still remain the other depositions in which Rosenberg reported Ivan killed.  The one that Rosenberg gave in Dusseldorf on 02-Nov-1960, for example, said that all German and Ukrainian personnel were killed during the Treblinka uprising, an embarrassment for Rosenberg not only with respect to the resurrected John Demjanjuk in 1987 Jerusalem, but also with respect to the resurrected German defendants that Rosenberg testified against in the trial of Kurt Franz and others in 1964 Dusseldorf.  On top of that, there was the Rosenberg deposition of 20-Dec-1945 written in his own hand in Yiddish, also signed on every page, which had him witnessing the killing of Ivan: "Afterwards we broke into Ivan's machine room, he was asleep at the time.  Gustav, the first, hit him on the head with a spade, leaving him lying there for all eternity."  But one might wonder that if the seemingly-fatal blow to the head with a spade had not really killed Ivan, how it could have left his head as unscarred as John Demjanjuk's was.

What can we conclude from the above?  First and foremost, that Eliahu Rosenberg has low credibility.  Going beyond that, we can be certain that all concerned in the 1987-1988 Jerusalem trial were aware that erschlagen meant "to kill", and could not mean "to hit" or "to strike" or "to beat".  Professional translator Mrs. Frost most particularly must have known this, and thus her mistranslation constituted perjury, and must have been suborned by the judge-prosecution coalition led by Judge Dov Levin and prosecutor Michael Shaked.  Michael Shaked volunteering his own mistranslation constituted his donning for a moment the hat of a professional witness expert in the German language, which he did in order to bolster Mrs. Frost's perjury with his own, and in order to take the spotlight away from her because he expected she would be unable under cross-examination to maintain the bald-faced lie that erschlagen meant "to hit".  Judge Dov Levin's mistranslation is one small but unmistakable instance of the sort of fabrication that has hyperbolized the historical account of the Jewish holocaust into the folk-tale of the Jewish Super-Holocaust, and where the questioning of any fabrication is derogated as "Holocaust denial".  Those who pursued the vision of John Demjanjuk hanging by his neck from an Israeli gibbet were unprincipled and ruthless what they were doing had the surface appearance of justice, but underneath was closer to ritual sacrifice.  We will know that Western-style justice has finally gained a toehold in Israel when those who participated in the attempted murder of John Demjanjuk are behind bars.  All those who, like yourself, supported the attempted murder of John Demjanjuk through their disinformation campaigns must be considered accomplices in a criminal undertaking.  Your many intemperate and groundless statements supporting John Demjanjuk's guilt, and the fairness of his trial, are incompatible with your status as a faculty member at Harvard University.  The Levin-led attempt to win acceptance of a mistranslation demonstrates that your praise of the Israeli judiciary was either ignorant or duplicitous:

It is a credit to the Israeli judiciary that it rendered so thorough a judgment and performed so professional a job in the context of such barbarous crimes against so many victims.
Alan M. Dershowitz, Chutzpah, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, and London, 1991, p. 169.

Lubomyr Prytulak