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Jewish Journal

Demjanjuk, may you (not) rest in peace

by Noga Gur-Arieh

March 18, 2012 | 12:58 pm

...and the world stood still...

John Demjanjuk (born by the name of Ivan Mykolaiovych Demianiuk) was a Nazi, who was suspected to be the Terrible Ivan (a famous Nazi figure who terribly abused Jews, both mentally and physically, during the Holocaust), and was cleared from the benefit of the doubt. Though there was never a question about his belonging to the Nazi party and taking a part in the mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust, he was never charged with any crime. This Friday, he died of old age, at 91.

Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and was granted citizenship in 1958. In 1986, he was recognized as Terrible Ivan by Holocaust survivors and was transferred to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. He was sentenced to death here, but his appeal to the supreme court left him clear of charges due to the benefit of the doubt. During his appeal he had claimed to be “just” a guard at concentration and death camps, and stated that the identification of him as Terrible Ivan was a case of mistaken identity.

Because of the fact that this specific trial was leaning on Demjanjuk being Terrible Ivan, he could not be officially charged for the crimes he committed as a guard (the magic of bureaucracy). Therefore, he was released back home to Ohio.

In 2001, Demjanjuk was charged again, this time on the grounds of him serving as a guard at Sobibor and Majdanek camps in Poland. He was to be deported, but appealed once again and stayed in the States. In 2009, he was deported to Germany, where he would stand trial once again. According to reports, he was charged with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder, one count for each person who was murdered under his supervision.

His trial lasted nearly two years. He was a very old man, and arrived at court lying on a hospital bed, breathing with the aid of an oxygen machine. Reports say he was acting a little bit, by pretending to be sleeping, or drifting in and out of consciousness, situations that caused cancellation of testimony and extended the duration of the trial. Eventually, he was sentenced to five years in prison, but was later released due to old age, and lived at a German nursing home until his calm, quiet death at the age of 91.

Bureaucracy set this cold blooded murderer free; when there was a chance to legally end his life (the law in Israel states that death penalty can be applied to those who committed severe crimes against humanity during the Holocaust). Combine that with a sharp attorney and acting skills, and a criminal of the worst kind there is got to live a long and happy life as an American.

To me, every single person who took ANY part of the mass butchering of the Jews during the years 1939 to 1945 should be punished severely. Unfortunately, most of those people got to live the life their victims never got to live. Demjanjuk was merely an example. The tip of the iceberg. Ruthless killers either died of old age, or had the privilege to take their own lives, without having to face the 6 million prosecutors.  Those who never took actual part in the inconceivable actions and simply stood aside, or even those who chose to shut their eyes and ears and to pretend there was nothing going on - they are almost as guilty to me as those who did the actual killing. Taking into account they were under the spell of Hitler’s charisma, I feel inner peace knowing they will die with guilt. That’s enough for me. Those who committed the worst crime ever committed, and lived to enjoy every minute and got to rest in peace - those people are the living proof of injustice.

I can’t imagine the number of those who got away due to the oh- so- wrong legal system of the world (after all, Nazis were judged in Israel, USA and Europe, sometimes all together).

Elders, adults, teenagers, children, infants - millions of people whose only crime was their birth, either died horrible deaths or went through hell for years. Jews, the handicapped, homosexuals, dark- skinned, Gypsies - those people weren’t considered to be worth living.

Many of those people got to have families, jobs and friends, and live a life of fulfillment, still positive that their way is the right way. Most of the original members of the Nazi party are no longer amongst the living, but don’t be mistaken. There is a whole new generation of Nazis, and their number is continuously growing. Just like 80 years ago, they start quietly. Gathering strength and resources. Slowly preparing to strike again. The world, once again, sees nothing. It’s nothing. They will never actually DO anything. To me that sounds familiar. I’ve read about it in History class in high- school…

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