Patience T. Huntwork   Ukrainian Weekly   03-Jun-1990   B'nai B'rith disinformation

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PBS's "Demjanjuk Dossier": A case study in bias

by Patience T. Huntwork

The camera freezes on a photo of John Demjanjuk, age 69.  Suddenly, before the viewer's eyes, Mr. Demjanjuk's features begin to fade out, and are replaced on the screen by a much younger face, but with identical outlines the face pictured on the alleged Nazi death camp I.D. card.

Recalling testimony from Mr. Demjanjuk's Israeli trial, the narrator intones: "Reinhardt Altmann of the West German Police demonstrated a new technique of scientific photocomparison."

To the TV viewer, the conclusion is inescapable: Mr. Demjanjuk is "Ivan the Terrible" of Treblinka, murderer of almost 1 million Jewish men, women and children.

Is the conclusion correct, based on the photo sequence?  No.  But few viewers of a new PBS film on the Demjanjuk case will know, since few will be aware that Mr. Demjanjuk conceded that the photo might be his.  (He testified that, although the photo resembled him 40 years earlier, he wasn't sure, since his hair had never been cut as in the photo except during his brief Soviet Army service.)  Mr. Demjanjuk's defense was that the card was a forgery assembled by the Soviets using a captured blank.  (Actually, Mr. Demjanjuk is four inches taller than the height recorded on the card.)

The photo comparison sequence, which is misleading, typifies "The Demjanjuk Dossier," a film financed by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and shown on PBS in the weeks just preceding Mr. Demjanjuk's May appeal.  In its lack of objectivity, the film severely distorts or omits key facts.

The following extraordinary developments are never mentioned.

1.  In August 1989, Rep. James Traficant held a press conference in Washington to reveal exculpatory evidence gleaned from a bizarre source garbage bins outside the K Street office of the Justice Department.  The evidence had been withheld for 12 years by Justice Department attorneys.  The "trash" discovery casts doubt upon the identification of Mr. Demjanjuk as Ivan the heart of the prosecution's case.

For example, following a 1976 interview with Otto Horn (a German eyewitness who served at Treblinka and knew Ivan), a Justice Department investigator wrote in an internal report: "Horn described [Iwan] as being of stocky build, black hair cut short, full rounded face, tall, with no distinguishing marks on his face."

However, the same investigator deleted the reference to Ivan's hair, in a 1986 affidavit submitted in Mr. Demjanjuk's criminal trial: "Mr. Horn provided the physical description of the person he knew as (Iwan), stating that he was full-faced and of stocky build."

In 1942, Mr. Demjanjuk's hair was not black but blonde.  This important fact was withheld from the defense and the evidence of it, along with other materials favorable to the defense, was discarded in the trash.

2.  In September 1988, William Wolf, a Jewish lawyer working gratis for Mr. Demjanjuk, produced taped evidence that the prosecution had pressured Treblinka survivor and eyewitness Richard Glazar into keeping silent concerning Ivan.

Asked by Mr. Wolf to discuss Ivan's identity, Mr. Glazar refuses, saying: "I promised the General Attorney who investigated, the Israeli attorney, not to talk to anybody as long as the trial is not closed."

Incredulous, Mr. Wolf told Mr. Glazar, "A man's life is hanging in the balance," and asked whether Mr. Demjanjuk is Ivan.

Mr. Glazar was evasive: "I can't tell you."  He adds: "Maybe, maybe, maybe you know, he didn't murder in Treblinka, he murdered in Sobibor maybe, maybe."  Thus, by speculation, Mr. Glazar suggests an entirely different theory of Mr. Demjanjuk's guilt one never charged in court.

Under any civilized theory of justice, if Mr. Demjanjuk did not murder in Treblinka as charged, he cannot be put to death.  He was not accused of being in Sobibor, and no Holocaust survivor has placed him there.  A death sentence based on "maybes" on conjecture never charged, much less proven would not be justice, but legal barbarism.

3.  In 1988 Mr. Demjanjuk's attorney Dov Eitan, a prominent Israeli jurist, died in a mysterious fall from the 15th floor of Jerusalem's Ayalon Hotel a death officially ruled a suicide, but which remains suspicious.

Co-counsel Yoram Sheftel, himself temporarily blinded in one eye in an acid attack at Mr. Eitan's funeral, has stated: "[Eitan's] death is a total mystery.  Nobody knows the motive for his fatal jump....  He was looking forward to working on the case."

The suspicious death of one attorney and the partial blinding of another, leaving a condemned man's legal defense crippled why did "The Demjanjuk Dossier" fail to disclose these facts?

Furthermore, the following statements from the film are either false, or highly misleading.

"To get into the States, [Demjanjuk] wrote on his U.S. visa application that during the war he had been a simple farmer in Poland, at a place called Sobibor."

Omitted explanation: American officials attempted to aid thousands of East European refugees after the war by encouraging them to submit false data on their visa applications the only means of escaping forced repatriation and death in the Soviet Union.

"Few survivors remained to identify the feared Ukrainian, Ivan."

In actuality, over 100 Treblinka survivors had been identified at the time of the initial investigation of Demjanjuk.  At least 23 of these, when shown photographs of Mr. Demjanjuk, could not identify him as Ivan.  Only six were able to.  Of these six survivors, three had previously been ruled not credible in a similar case, and one had earlier sworn that he saw Ivan killed during a prisoner uprising at Treblinka.

Concerning the procedures followed to produce the identifications of Mr. Demjanjuk by the six, Willem Wagenaar, a distinguished Jewish authority on forensic identification, has written: "I will not say that the investigative procedure was a farce, but a total farce could have violated only a few more rules....  I know of no other case in which so many deviations from procedures internationally accepted as desirable occurred."

"Demjanjuk's denials of SS involvement were challenged by a 45-year-old document, record of his wartime service for the Germans."

Omitted explanation: Document examiners are deeply divided on the authenticity of the Trawniki I.D. card.  Some of the most distinguished experts have lined up on Mr. Demjanjuk's side, including Julius Grant, who uncovered the Hitler diary forgery, and William Flynn, who uncovered the "White Salamander" forgery of Mormon Church documents and who ranks as one of the top forensic experts in the world.

"The Trawniki I.D. card "was accepted" in U.S. court.

Misleading.  No defense expert in the U.S. proceedings was permitted to forensically examine the I.D. card.  The card remained in Soviet custody throughout the brief time (one weekend) when it was available to the Demjanjuk defense.  Because the Soviet officials would neither permit the experts to take the card to their labs nor permit any physical tests on the card, the defense was unable to test its authenticity before it was abruptly withdrawn by the Soviets.

"The Demjanjuk Dossier" also implies that, in U.S. proceedings, Mr. Demjanjuk admitted the signature on the card was his.  This is false, as demonstrated by the court record, in which Mr. Demjanjuk clearly denies ever signing the card.

"Similar material (to the Trawniki I.D. card) captured in World War II provided earlier by the Soviets had proved fully accurate when presented in Western courts."

False.  No document supplied by the Soviets for a war crimes case has ever been subjected to scrutiny in a criminal case, since the U.S. unlike Australia and Canada does not grant criminal trials to those accused of war crimes.

Soviet documents in U.S. courts have routinely been kept in Soviet custody, inaccessible to full forensic testing.  A defense attorney in one U.S. war crimes case was allowed just 15 minutes on a coffee table in the Soviet Embassy to test a key document.  In another case of a Soviet-supplied document, experts detected 25 irregularities, including erasures, graphite disturbances, disturbed printing, type-overs, mismatched letters, and multiple glues behind the photo.  (It is noteworthy that defense experts were not allowed to examine the ink and glue behind the alleged Demjanjuk photo.)

"At that time [during the U.S. proceedings] Demjanjuk couldn't even remember the name Chelm."

Misleading.  It was only in his first deposition in 1978, not in subsequent proceedings, that Mr. Demjanjuk stated that he was imprisoned by the Germans at Rovno and "another camp," the name of which he could not remember.  This is understandable, since the imprisonment occurred 35 years earlier, and at the time Chelm was known by the Germans as "Stalag 319."

"Demjanjuk could not produce one witness or even a document" to show he'd been a prisoner at Chelm.

Highly misleading.  Mr. Demjanjuk repeatedly asked for, and was denied, access to the Polish archival centers.  These were the only sources from which he could expect to find documents on Chelm.  The Polish authorities have denied visas to Demjanjuk counsel Yoram Sheftel and Mr. Demjanjuk's son, John, stating they did so "in memory of the victims of the Holocaust."

Could it be that "Dossier's" producers, in their desire to instruct on the horrors of the Holocaust (never disputed by Mr. Demjanjuk), considered the full truth unsuited to the film's purposes?

It is disturbing to recall an earlier war crimes case, that of Chicago defendant Frank Walus.  Walus was identified in court by no less than 12 Holocaust survivors, who claimed they could never forget Mr. Walus as the "Butcher of Kielce," a sadistic Nazi war criminal.

Two years after Mr. Walus lost his U.S. citizenship, conclusive evidence of his innocence surfaced, and the Justice Department withdrew the charges.  A U.S. District Court found that a serious mistake had been made, and that Mr. Walus should be compensated by the authorities.

Now it seems, history may be repeating itself.  In February 1990, the CBS News program "60 Minutes" revealed that Polish eyewitnesses interviewed in a village near Treblinka told "60 Minutes" host Ed Bradley that "Ivan of Treblinka" was well known to them and was not John Demjanjuk.  According to the villagers, he was one Ivan Marczenko, whose name appears on lists of SS guards in the archives of the Polish War Crimes Commission.

If this new evidence is true, then Mr. Demjanjuk's conviction is a tragic mistake, similar to the error made by the District Court in the Walus case.

What will be the appropriate compensation for a "mistake" in the case of John Demjanjuk, now sentenced to death by hanging?  Clearly, his rights have not been afforded adequate protection.  If a reversal of his conviction never comes and the ultimate sanction, the death penalty, is carried out against him, the law's moral authority which protects all of us will be diminished.  Whatever may have been their intentions, a share of the moral responsibility will almost certainly be borne by the makers of "The Demjanjuk Dossier."

A Phoenix attorney and human rights activist, Patience Huntwork gained recognition for her successful campaign to end a controversial agreement between the American Bar Association and the official Association of Soviet Lawyers.

The above analysis by Ms. Huntwork of the film "Ivan the Terrible The Demjanjuk Dossier" was sent by the John Demjanjuk Defense Fund to all PBS stations across the country before the film's scheduled broadcast.  The letter also alerted the stations to the fact that the local PBS station in Cleveland had produced an update on the case which included new evidence beneficial to the defense and that this update was available for airing by other PBS stations.