Elie Wiesel   Letter to Dobunin   03-Dec-1986   Did Elie Wiesel know Demjanjuk was innocent?
From the Elie Wiesel letter below, one must conclude either that Wiesel had been following the Demjanjuk case closely, and for this reason had a surprising command both of the events in that case to date and what was needed for the prosecution to continue, or else that Israeli prosecutors had handed Wiesel the text of the letter that they wanted him to write, and he dutifully had his secretary type it up and signed it.

One perhaps surprising phenomenon that the letter reveals is the concerted, world-wide nature of the efforts to convict John Demjanjuk.  Below we see Elie Wiesel, professor in the humanities at Boston University, throwing his weight behind efforts to obtain inculpatory material against John Demjanjuk.  In Wiesel's letter as well are mentioned similar efforts by the Dutch Embassy in Moscow.  Elsewhere on the UKAR site, we have already seen former director of the US Office of Special Investigations (OSI) Allan Ryan calling upon the USSR to produce inculpatory materials; Shimon Peres, Prime Minister of Israel, requesting that Armand Hammer, Jewish Chairman of Occidental Petroleum, procure inculpatory evidence from the USSR; a representative of Occidental Petroleum, Alan Spiritus, actually picking the Trawniki ID card up from the KGB, and Armand Hammer actually taking possession of the card in Moscow.  One wonders why it was not enough for Israeli prosecutors to rely on their own requests for evidence, and on their own couriers, without channelling these requests through such a diversity of agents as an American novelist or the Prime Minister of Israel, and using such exotic couriers as employees of Occidental Petroleum, and even the Chairman of Occidental Petroleum himself.

It may be a matter of some surprise to learn from Wiesel's letter that the Israelis have Demjanjuk in custody and are about to put him on trial, and yet do not have in their possession the sole piece of documentary evidence against him the Trawniki ID card and do not even know where the card is.

We learn, furthermore, that the Trawniki ID card is the only one of its kind ever to have been seen in the West, and so the Israelis must ask the KGB whether it can produce other cards of the same kind, which the KGB was able to do.

The Wiesel letter demonstrates an awareness that if Demjanjuk had been at the Trawniki training camp, then there should have been a Trawniki Personalbogen a personnel file on him, and the letter requests the KGB to produce such a Trawniki Personalbogen.  It is highly significant that the KGB failed to produce any such Trawniki Personalbogen, so that the trial proceeded on the basis of no other documentary evidence than the one Trawniki ID card.  In any jurisdiction aspiring to Western standards of justice, the failure of the KGB, or of Polish authorities, to discover any Personalbogen on John Demjanjuk at the Trawniki training camp would have cast serious doubt on the accusation that he had received camp guard training there.

And here we come to a revelation lying within the Wiesel letter the revelation that Elie Wiesel (or whoever wrote the letter for him) probably knew that John Demjanjuk was innocent of having been either Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka as charged, or of having been a camp guard at Sobibor as rumored.  This revelation is contained in the Wiesel letter failing to request the KGB to find a Personalbogen for John Demjanjuk at either Treblinka or Sobibor.  But Treblinka is where John Demjanjuk was supposed to have killed almost one million Jews.  To have killed almost one million Jews, Demjanjuk's presence at Treblinka must have been of considerable duration, and must have been widely noted.  Treblinka is where John Demjanjuk if he had been Ivan the Terrible would have developed the fattest Personalbogen.  It is the Treblinka Personalbogen that would have most assisted the Israeli prosecution in convicting John Demjanjuk of having been Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.  And yet the Wiesel letter does not request a search for a Treblinka Personalbogen, which is compatible with the interpretation that Elie Wiesel (or whoever wrote the letter for him) knew that no Treblinka Personalbogen was in existence, and is compatible with the interpretation that Wiesel was not going to alienate the KGB with a disingenuous request to look for something that both of them knew did not exist.

One other observation, this one perhaps the most important, as it suggests the utter ruthlessness and cynicism of the forces acting against John Demjanjuk.  Consider that the KGB was highly motivated to see John Demjanjuk convicted of war crimes.  It had been highly motivated for many years it was, after all, the KGB that initiated accusations against John Demjanjuk in 1976.  During the decade up to Wiesel's 1986 letter below, the KGB must have been aware of the weakness of the evidence against John Demjanjuk, and of the need to bolster that evidence if the case against John Demjanjuk was to succeed.  Therefore, the KGB must have by itself and without being prompted already ransacked heaven and earth in an attempt to find a Trawniki Personalbogen on John Demjanjuk, and any other evidence that could be of service.  Why, then, does Elie Wiesel urge the KGB to do what it must already have done?  Why ask the KGB to take the most obvious, the most rudimentary, step in strengthening the case against John Demjanjuk?  Wiesel, writing in 1986, acknowledges that even by 1981, the State of Israel had already made requests for such documents "on several occasions."  Why keep asking the KGB, year after year, for documents that the KGB plainly does not possess?

The answer that suggests itself is that in refusing to take "No" for an answer, Elie Wiesel was implicitly pressuring the KGB to produce a forgery.  That is, maybe what the Wiesel letter below reveals is the prosecution hope that even though a decade of requests had been unable to elicit any further documents from the KGB, still more requests put in more urgent language and from more prestigious sources might succeed in eliciting a passable forgery.  That a forgery stood in danger of being discredited by an independent forensics laboratory would have struck Israeli prosecutors as irrelevant because they had no intention of exposing any Demjanjuk document to the scrutiny of any independent forensics laboratory, just as they had never exposed the Trawniki ID card itself to the scrutiny of any independent forensics laboratory at least not after they yanked the card out of the hands of German forensics experts whose preliminary inspection led them to report that the card was a blatant forgery.  Following the trial of John Demjanjuk in Israel, all documents would be returned to Moscow, and the possibility of forgeries ever being brought to light thereby largely averted.

Here again must be echoed a refrain that has become familiar in discussing the Demjanjuk case on the pages of the Ukrainian Archive the refrain starting with "In any jurisdiction aspiring to Western standards of justice."  In the present application, it goes like this: In any jurisdiction aspiring to Western standards of Justice, the rendering inaccessible after a trial of all material evidence might be considered prejudicial to the defendant.  In an increasing number of cases, for example, DNA evidence that continued to remain on file years after a conviction, has been discovered to provide conclusive exculpation.  Had such evidence been destroyed following a trial, then many innocent defendants would have suffered punishments that they did not deserve.  In Israel, in contrast, the rendering inaccessible of evidence, and thus the prevention of such exculpation, seems to be unobjectionable at least in the case of a Ukrainian defendant accused of crimes against Jews.  From this and many other examples, it would appear that Israel does not aspire to Western standards of justice.

A comprehensive discussion of the Trawniki Identification Card can be found in the Lubomyr Prytulak letter to Alan Dershowitz of 14-May-2001.

Two errors in the original letter have been left uncorrected below.  In one case, "(is such a document" should have been "(if such a document", and in the other case, "archieves" should have been "archives".

Boston University

University Professors
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02215

Elie Wiesel, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities December 3, 1986

His Excellency Yuri V. Dubinin
Ambassador of the Union of Soviet
    Socialist Republics
1125 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20036

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

     I have been asked by the Ministry of Justice, State of Israel, through the Office of the State Attorney, to request the assistance of the Soviet Union in obtaining original documenting material regarding Ivan Demjanjuk who was denaturalized as an American citizen and deported for trial to the State of Israel for extraordinary crimes against humanity in the period 1942-1944 in Poland.

     The documents required by the State of Israel are of critical importance in the trial of Demjanjuk whose preliminary proceedings recently opened; therefore, expeditious cooperation in providing these documents will be greatly appreciated.

     The prosecution in this case will contend that Demjanjuk was recruited to the SS auxiliaries in early summer 1942 and was trained for his Operation Reinhardt duties at the SS training camp at Trawniki.  On his recruitment, Demjanjuk was issued by the SS authorities with Trawniki camp identity card No. 1393 (Dienstausweis).  On completion of his training at Trawniki, Demjanjuk was assigned to the Treblinka death camp, where he perpetrated the atrocities and mass murders with which he is charged.

     Demjanjuk argues that he never joined the SS auxiliaries, that he was never trained at Trawniki and that he never served at Treblinka.  The SS identity card issued to Demjanjuk at Trawniki shows clearly his enlistment into the SS auxiliaries and his training at Trawniki.  This card is therefore an important link in refuting Demjanjuk's alibi and in proving the prosecution's claim.

     It is our understanding that the Soviet authorities are now again in possession of the original identity card issued to Demjanjuk at Trawniki.  They sent the original card to the Soviet Embassy in Washington and in February 1981, a document examiner from the U.S. Department of Justice was permitted to study and photocopy the card.  On March 3, 1981, the U.S. Department of Justice was permitted to take the original card and produce it to Judge Battisti, Chief Justice of the U.S. District Court in Cleveland.  Judge Battisti was then presiding over the denaturalization proceedings against Demjanjuk.  After the original identity card had been produced to Judge Battisti, it was returned to the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

     It is important that this original identity card also now be made available to the Israel Ministry of Justice so that the prosecution can produce it to the court in Jerusalem which is now hearing the case against Demjanjuk.

     This identity card from the Trawniki training camp is the only one of its kind submitted in legal proceedings in Western Europe and the United States.  The Israel prosecution team would therefore be interested in receiving from the Soviet authorities any additional cards of this type relating to other SS auxiliaries trained at Trawniki.  Production of additional cards would help the prosecution to prove the authenticity of Demjanjuk's card No. 1393.

     The SS command at the Trawniki camp also maintained personnel files (Personalbogen) on all SS auxiliaries trained at the camp.  It is believed that the Army of the Soviet Union took possession of some of these Personalbogen when it liberated the eastern areas of Poland in the summer of 1944.  The State of Israel has asked the Soviet authorities to check in their various archieves to ascertain whether they possess a Personalbogen relating to Ivan Demjanjuk.  Should such a Personalbogen be found, Israel would be eager to obtain the original document in order to present it to the court in Jerusalem.

     In summary, the State of Israel requires the following:

1. The original of Demjanjuk's identity card No. 1393 (i.e., the same card that was presented to the U.S. authorities in 1981 and then returned to the Soviet Embassy in Washington);
2. Any other example of this type of identity card ("Dienstausweis") from the Trawniki training camp;
3. Demjanjuk's "Personalbogen" from Trawniki (is such a document is in the possession of the Soviet authorities).

     Requests by the State of Israel for these documents have on several occasions been presented to the Soviet authorities by the Dutch Embassy in Moscow.  However, the Ministry of Justice of the State of Israel indicated to me that the only reply they have received was that in 1981 the documents relating to Demjanjuk were forwarded to the United States Department of Justice.  It could just possibly be that the original identity card is still in the Soviet Embassy in Washington and has never been returned to Moscow.

     Therefore, in the interest of justice and its appropriate and complete pursuit in this case, I would be grateful for any assistance and cooperation that the Soviet authorities could render in helping to obtain these documents in their original form for transmittal and use in this trial and other similar legal proceedings.  The preliminary hearings began several days ago, and the trial itself is scheduled to begin January 19, 1987, so that the matter is one of urgency.

     The recent delegation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, who met with various high-ranking Soviet officials, found great understanding and willingness to cooperate in matters of mutual concern for which I personally, and on behalf of the delegation, am most grateful.  I hope we may see similar cooperation on this urgent matter.



Elie Wiesel