by Dr. Myron B. Kuropas
A syndicated series of articles by respected Jewish American jurist Alan Dershowitz applauding the "fairness" of the Israeli trial of John Demjanjuk is an affront to the wit and wisdom of informed Americans.
The trial was a travesty of justice, a government-orchestrated drama designed to keep alive the memories of the Holocaust and to settle accounts with an old and hated enemy.
The verdict was rendered before the trial began. Appearing on CBS news on the day Mr. Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, then Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres affirmed Mr. Demjanjuk's guilt by announcing: "He's a Nazi; he's a killer." Noting that 25 years had passed since the Israelis had hanged a Nazi, Gideon Husner, chief prosecutor in the Eichmann case, later intoned: "A new generation has arisen. It is important that the young generation in Israel and in the world be able to get a grasp of the atrocities of the Holocaust."
Held in a converted theater, the trial began on the day the Israeli justice minister went on national radio and declared: "Today begins the trial of Nazi murderer and war criminal John Demjanjuk." As the trial progressed, thousands of Israeli schoolchildren were brought to the hall to view the proceedings (which began with a complete review of the Holocaust despite defense objections), while spectators freely yelled epithets against Mr. Demjanjuk from the gallery. Even The Jerusalem Post editorialized that if Mr. Demjanjuk is acquitted, it might somehow diminish the Holocaust in the eyes of the outside world. "Many Israelis will be waiting to be convinced that the holding of this war crimes trial was not a mistake," the Post wrote.
Not to worry, Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk was convicted and condemned to death. As the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Dov Ben Meir, wrote to the president of Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine on the eve of the trial, "Since the days of Bogdan Chelmenitzky, the Jewish people has a long score to settle with the Ukrainian people" (Bohdan Khmelnytsky was a 17th century Ukrainian military commander).
The trial, held in what Barbara Amid of the Toronto Sun aptly described as "a lynch-mob atmosphere," was also attended by Ukrainian American lawyers who reported what they learned in the Ukrainian American press. One of them, Walter Anastas, a former law professor, was shocked by the brutal manner in which the three Israeli judges intimidated defense witnesses. "Such judicial behavior would never be tolerated in other free world courts," he stated. One defense witness, the renowned historian Nikolai Tolstoy, threatened to leave the courtroom if the judges didn't stop their personal attacks on his character. "It was I who was on the dock," Mr. Tolstoy stated later, "and not the issues upon which I was called to testify."
Demjanjuk trial judges also attempted to lead witnesses. During testimony by Shmuel Krakowski regarding Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, Judge Zvi Tal stated: "You noted that the Germans expected collaboration or cooperation from the Ukrainians because of the national aspirations of Ukrainians for independence. Now when it comes to cooperation in the annihilation of Jews, were there or not additional reasons why the Germans expected the Ukrainians to cooperate? For example, the tradition, the long-lived tradition of hatred and hostility vis-a-vis the Jewish population, ever since the times of Khmelnytsky in the l7thcentury, wasn't that one of the factors involved?" he asked.
In the end, the Israelis decided to hang John Demjanjuk largely on the basis of testimony by five Treblinka survivors (all of whom had heard each other's stories many times and had identified John Demjanjuk before) and an identification card supplied by the Soviet Union.
The judges treated the testimony of survivors as sacrosanct. Never mind that one of them, Eliyahu Rosenberg, testified in 1947 that he saw "Ivan the Terrible" "fall for all eternity" during the 1943 Treblinka uprising. (Shown his sworn statement at the trial, Mr. Rosenberg replied that he was certain "Ivan" was dead until he saw Mr. Demjanjuk.) It didn't matter that Pinchas Epstein, another eyewitness, never even mentioned an "Ivan the Terrible" in his sworn 1947 statement. So what if 12 of the 17 Treblinka survivors interviewed by the United States Justice Department earlier couldn't identify John Demjanjuk in any of the photos. The Israeli court ruled that "all of the horrific scenes" the survivors witnessed "are as a fire imprisoned in their bones, etched deep in their memories."
All this after testimony by Yad Vashem Holocaust archives director Dr. Krakowski that many survivors wanting "to be part of history" may have let their imaginations run away with them. "Many were never in the places where they claim to have witnessed atrocities, while others relied on second-hand information given them by friends or passing strangers," he said.
One is reminded of the 11 "survivor witnesses" who testified under oath — and falsely — that Polish-born Chicagoan Frank Walus was the Nazi butcher of Kielce, when the man was really a farm worker in Germany during the war, both too short and of the wrong nationality to be a Gestapo officer.
Many forensics experts provided evidence that the Soviet-supplied Trawniki I.D. card was a forgery. One was Dr. Julius Grant, the renowned Briton who proved that the Stern magazine Hitler "diaries" were a fake. Another was William Flynn, chief documents examiner for the State of Arizona, who was responsible for uncovering a series of documents fraudulently attributed to Mormon leaders. When Mr. Flynn attempted to present the results of his iron ion migration test, a procedure important in determining the age of a document, the Israeli court refused to hear the testimony on the grounds that it was "irrelevant."
And so it went. While the prosecution had access to Department of Justice files, the defense had to sue the Department of Justice to obtain them. The prosecution had full access to Soviet and Polish files, the defense did not. The prosecution had unlimited funding. The defense, financed almost entirely by private donations (approximately a million dollars has already been spent), was always in a financial bind.
Most Americans, of course, are unfamiliar with these facts because American correspondents in Israel, many of them of Jewish heritage, generally reported the prosecution side, losing interest once the defense began its presentation. Only three correspondents were present for the entire trial, two from Israeli newspapers and one who wrote for Svoboda, a Ukrainian American daily, and The Ukrainian Weekly. Limited coverage in the United States, of course, makes it easier to whitewash the proceedings as a "fair trial."
Hatred of Ukrainians by some Jews is legendary. In the words of Jewish American columnist Barry Farber of the New York City Tribune: "Many Jews feel it's impossible to grab any 70-year-old Ukrainian male and not have a notorious Jew-killer or Jew-killing accomplice on your hands!" One detects a hint of this same hatred in Alan Dershowitz when he wrote that "even a Ukrainian can get a fair trial in Israel." Not true. Israeli courts are little better than Soviet courts in trying Ukrainian nationalists. In both countries the verdict is in before the trial begins.
Canada and the United Kingdom now plan to hold their own trials of alleged Nazi war criminals. It's time the United States did the same.