U.S. Will Not Allow Return of Demjanjuk
Despite the Israeli Supreme Court ruling freeing him of charges that he is “Ivan the Terrible,” former Cleveland auto worker John Demjanjuk cannot return to the United States because he lied about his role as a death camp guard, Justice Department officials said Thursday.
“The United States has taken the position that service at any death camp renders someone inadmissible to the United States. And there is absolutely no question that John Demjanjuk served (in) the Nazi SS,” said Neal Sher, director of the department’s Nazi-hunting unit.
Though Thursday’s ruling was a setback for U.S. prosecutors, Sher stressed that the Israeli court did not conclude that Demjanjuk was an innocent victim of “mistaken identity,” as he and his attorneys have maintained.
The court’s opinion said that “the facts proved (Demjanjuk’s) participation in the extermination process,” according to a summary of the opinion prepared by an Israeli jurist. Demjanjuk, however, had been charged and convicted specifically with being the ghastly cruel Treblinka guard known as “Ivan the Terrible,” the court said.
Demjanjuk has long maintained that he did not serve at Treblinka, and his claim was bolstered recently by information from Soviet archives. Other Treblinka guards said that a man named Ivan Marchenko, not Demjanjuk, ran the gas chamber.
That evidence ultimately led to Thursday’s ruling overturning his conviction and death sentence.
But as Sher noted, the new evidence from Soviet archives also shows Demjanjuk’s name on a list of guards serving at Sobibor, another death camp located in Poland.
“When someone served at Sobibor, they killed Jews for a living,” Sher said.
When Demjanjuk entered the United States in 1952, he said that he had spent the war years as a German prisoner. But a photo identification card found later placed him at Trawniki in Poland, where the Germans trained volunteers to serve in the death camps. Sher also noted that Demjanjuk had a tattoo under his arm signifying his membership in the Nazi SS.
In the mid-1970s, U.S. prosecutors moved to deport him as a former death camp guard. Only then, Sher said, did Treblinka survivors in Israel point to him as the sword-wielding guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.” He was extradited, and in 1988 he was convicted in Israel based on eyewitness testimony from five Treblinka survivors.
Last month, U.S. prosecutors got a mixed report from a federal judge who undertook a 10-month study of Demjanjuk’s case. It had been prompted by allegations that evidence had been withheld from the court in 1981 that could have called his guilt into question.
U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. concluded that Sher’s team at the Justice Department had “acted in good faith” in the Demjanjuk case and had not deliberately withheld evidence.
Nonetheless, the judge also concluded that Demjanjuk was probably not the “Ivan the Terrible” of Treblinka, as had been charged.
In Los Angeles, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, said he was disappointed by the court’s decision. Saying the Israeli court had identified Demjanjuk as a war criminal and a liar, Hier complained that this analysis was buried deep in a 580-page decision, thereby creating a false image.
Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee on crime and criminal justice of the House Judiciary Committee, said he supported the Justice Department’s intention to refuse Demjanjuk’s bid to return here.
But Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio), a staunch supporter of Demjanjuk, said he will introduce a private bill in Congress to win a return for Demjanjuk, 73.
Times staff writer Anthony Duignan-Cabrera contributed to this report.