April 14, 2009 | 4:50 pm
Posted by Tom Teicholz
I just watched video of John Demjanjuk being removed from his house in a wheelchair (not a stretcher as reported elsewhere). It is hard to tell who was there (family members, attorneys).
Demjanjuk is being deported to stand trial in Germany accused of accessory to the murder of 29,000 Jewish men women and children at the Sobibor extermination camp in what was then Nazi occupied Poland. Throughout the many years of his trials (Demjanjuk was first accused of Nazi service in the mid 1970s), he has always issued a complete denial, claiming to have been a Russian prisoner-of-war during the time he was accused of being a Nazi auxilliary guard. But over the years, more and more documents have confirmed his Nazi service—and all have been confirmed as authentic and legitimate (despite defense claims of forgeries).
I covered Demjanjuk’s district court trial in Israel twenty years ago and have followed his case since. The notion that the US Justice Department had continued to prosecute him is something I found admirable—a criminal who won’t admit his crimes, who shows no remorse, can’t be allowed to go gently into that good night, believing that no one cares about the crimes, or that we have forgotten the victims.
Nonetheless, it was hard to watch the video and not feel for his family — Demjanjuk had asked for his priest to hear his confession before he was removed and there is every reason to believe that at 89, he will never see his home again or spend a night with his wife and family again.
Did it have to come to this day? Was there another possible outcome? There is no way to know if Demjanjuk had given his confession to authorities at any point after the war, and actually admitted his Nazi service, what would have transpired — would he perhaps have received a lesser sentence than he may now face (or than perhaps he deserved)? There are some cases to compare him to: his Soviet colleague Danylchenko was tried in the USSR and given a sentence he outlived — as were many during the German Auschwitz trials. But there is no way of knowing—Fedor Fedorenko, a guard at Treblinka, was deported from the US to the Soviet Union, and was executed after his trial there. One thing is certain, Demjanjuk would never have been allowed to become a US citizen and it is that crime, covering up his Nazi service, which led to his being deported today.
Demjanjuk’s denials and obfuscations drew out his prosecutions for these many many years, and he lived long enough for them to pursue him to this point. To their credit authorities didn’t give up. And Demjanjuk’s crimes and the prosecution of them will now follow him to Germany.
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