New Evidence: Demjanjuk a Nazi Guard, Probably Not ‘Ivan’
The appeals hearing of convicted war criminal John Demjanjuk appeared to have been transformed into a whole new trial Wednesday when prosecutors presented evidence that he was a Nazi guard but not necessarily “Ivan the Terrible,” the sadistic killer of the Treblinka death camp, as charged.
The evidence was gleaned from German files and showed that Demjanjuk served as an SS guard at the Flossenberg concentration camp in Germany in 1943 and 1944.
Although the evidence may dissolve Demjanjuk’s claim that he was a simple prisoner of war during that period, the evidence also seems to bolster the defense contention that Demjanjuk is not Ivan Marchenko, who is listed on other German documents as having been based in Treblinka, in occupied Poland, and who was the sadistic Ivan the Terrible.
“This material will make it possible for the court to see that the defendant served in the SS until the end of the war,” said prosecutor Michael Shaked, without a mention of Treblinka.
Defense attorney Yoram Sheftel noted the omission and said the prosecution offerings only buttress his case that Demjanjuk, a 71-year-old Ukrainian-born auto worker from Cleveland, Ohio, should be set free.
Demjanjuk was extradited from the United States on charges he was Ivan the Terrible. He was convicted and sentenced to death, with the court judging that “without a doubt,” Demjanjuk and Ivan the Terrible were the same.
His appeal has dragged on for nearly four years, and evidence provided last summer by the KGB threw the certainty of the conviction in doubt. It included testimony from other camp guards, a photograph and biographical material that point to a case of mistaken identity.
Yet another photograph of Ivan was submitted Wednesday that appears to further dispel the possibility that Demjanjuk was Marchenko. It was retrieved from Marchenko’s family in Ukraine. Marchenko’s wife died only a few weeks ago.
But on Wednesday, the high court judges were disposed to let the trial continue, although the prosecution had produced no proof to show that Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible. One judge ruled that the new evidence was relevant, because it demolished a Demjanjuk alibi.
The case now centers on the unspoken question: If Demjanjuk is not Ivan the Terrible, who is he?
The subtle slide from a trial of Ivan the Terrible to Demjanjuk the Concentration Camp Guard is occurring without an official ruling on the original conviction. Overturning the ruling might force the court to release Demjanjuk, because of the rules on extradition between the United States and Israel. It also might prove highly embarrassing to the governments and raise questions about the accuracy of Holocaust victims’ memories almost half a century after they witnessed crimes.