Thomas J. Sheeran of the Associated Press reported recently than John Demjanjuk, a man convicted of being a war criminal by a German court, wants his U.S. citizenship back. Demjanjuk claims that recently released documents cast doubt on his conviction.
In order to set the record straight and refresh our memories, here is the case against him:
He's Numero Uno on the list of 'Most Wanted' war criminals in the world, and the German government has now charged him with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder. (Since this article was first published in 2009, he has been convicted) He told U.S. immigration officials in 1951 that he was captured by the Germans in 1942 and spent his next two years either in different POW camps, or working for the Germans. He testified further that he was finally assigned to an anti-Soviet fighting unit funded by the Germans, where he served until the end of the war.
He eventually ended up in Cleveland working as a mechanic, and was granted U.S. citizenship.
But there is no credible evidence indicating he was in any POW camps except for the original one after his capture. Nor is there any record he fought the Russians on behalf of the Germans.
If John Demjanjuk was a Ukrainian guard at several concentration camps, how did he go from captured prisoner to guard? Was he forced into it at gunpoint by the Germans?
According to his alleged identification card, Demjanjuk was a registered member of the 'Trawniki Unit'. These men were volunteers, captured soldiers who willingly signed up to help implement Operation Reinhard, the German plan to dispose of all Jews in Poland. Trawniki was the central point where these soldiers were trained and then transferred around to different camps. Previous testimony from other guards who were at Trawniki show that everyone knew what their job was to be: Human extermination through a series of death camps that were just being established by the Third Reich.
These Ukrainians received better food, preferential treatment, official ranks, leaves from duty, and guns. After their training at Trawniki, they were assigned out to different camps. Some were sent to concentration camps, which meant Jews were housed, made to labor for the Nazis, and then eventually killed. Others were straight death camps. These were smaller processing centers where most of the Jews were killed either immediately, or within days after their arrival.
At Sobibor, (a death camp) one of the places where Demjanjuk allegedly served as a guard, this was the usual process as soon as new prisoners arrived by train:
SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Bolender told after the war how the extermination process operated -
'Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharführer Hermann Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression he was a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work. But before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection, so as to prevent the spread of diseases. After undressing, the Jews were taken through the "tube", by an SS man leading the way, with five or six Ukrainians at the back hastening the Jews along. After the Jews had entered the gas chambers, the Ukrainians closed the doors. The motor was switched on by the Ukrainian Emil Kostenko and by the German driver Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the doors were opened and the corpses were removed by a group of Jewish slave workers.'
One of the biggest problems for John Demjanjuk isn't the ID card, although it's a major piece of evidence against him. It's the exhaustive ruling of U.S. District Court judge Paul R Matia, and the work of the prosecution who unearthed several key supporting documents. In his 2002 ruling, Judge Matia points to many instances where Demjanjuk either lied to immigration officials, or gave inconsistent answers to questions when he applied for entry into the United States in 1951. Judge Matia also noted that Demjanjuk often changed his answers to questions during the 2002 hearing.
Some of the major points of the hearing, from Judge Matia's ruling:
Government Exhibit 3 - The Trawniki Identification Card
'Defendant has admitted that the "Demyanyuk" signature on Government Exhibit 3 is "like" he previously wrote his name.'
Note: When questioned more closely on the possibility that he was, in fact, the person identified on the card, Demjanjuk suggested it could be his cousin, Ivan Demjanjuk. The court pointed out that the details on the card, such as birthdates, name, and family do NOT identify the cousin:
'Government Exhibit 3 identifies Defendant and bears his photograph.
Government Exhibit 3 Does Not Identify Defendant's Cousin, Ivan Andreevich Demjanjuk.
Defendant's cousin Ivan was born on February 22, 1921.
The name of Defendant's cousin Ivan's father was Andrey.
Defendant's cousin Ivan had dark, "blackish" hair.'
From that point, it just gets worse for Demjanjuk. The prosecution not only had the I.D. card as evidence, but many other Trawniki ID cards from the same source.
In other words, they presented an entire deck of cards to show that the Demjanjuk card was indeed from the same deck.
The signatures by the people who filled them out matched perfectly. In addition, testing of ALL the cards brought into evidence showed no obvious signs of forgery. The court noted that the paper, inks, and typewriters used in their creation were all in use in the early 1940's. Some of the official stamps used on the cards had flaws, and these identical flaws were found on all the cards presented as evidence, including the one allegedly issued to Demjanjuk. All of the ID cards presented as evidence were located, according to the court's ruling, in places 'where they would normally be found'. In other words, legitimate archives.
The court also pointed out that Demjanjuk did not suggest the picture could be his cousin's until 1999, even though he had seen this evidence during his previous trial in Israel. In his 1983 trial, he was accused of being the infamous 'Ivan the Terrible' from Treblinka. Although the Israelis later discovered he was not, they were careful not to declare him completely innocent. He was found not guilty and released back to the United States.
Additional Records Entered as Evidence
In reviewing Judge Matia's ruling, especially pages 25-42, Demjanjuk is faced with huge problems for his defense. Although many people believe much is guesswork as to the whereabouts of Trawniki Guard, Service Pass # 1393 during the war, nothing could be further from the truth. The Germans kept very good records, and among them many supporting documents have been presented by the prosecution.
The Disciplinary Report
Shortly after his alleged assignment to Trawniki, the person represented on the ID card was disciplined with three other guards for 'breaking quarantine'. The card number and name match the one supposedly issued to Demjanjuk.
At least two transfer orders, as well as other significant documents, have been identified as referring to the person on the ID card. One was assignment to Sobibor as a guard. The other, issued after Sobibor closed, transferred that person to the Flossenburg concentration camp as a guard. These documents were compared with identical-type documents on other soldiers. The signatures, stamps, inks, paper used, and other factors were found consistent and declared genuine.
The Blood-Red Tattoo
Guards assigned through the Trawniki unit usually had blood-red tattoos under their left arms. Demjanjuk has one, although he says he got it in Austria. In his opening statement to the court, he admitted he was 'paid like a guard' when he worked for the Germans, but was not actually a concentration camp guard.
Recollections and Identification by Former Trawniki-Trained Guards
Ignat Danilchenko, a guard at both Sobibor and Flossenburg, testified that Demjanjuk was a fellow guard at both camps, and like him, was trained for his duties at Trawniki. He also testified that prosecutors would find a blood-red tattoo under Demjanjuk's left arm. He identified Demjanjuk from a series of photographs.
Ivan Ivchenko, another Trawniki-trained guard at Sobibor, picked Demjanjuk's photograph from a series of photographs and identified him as a fellow guard at Sobibor, although he could not recall Demjanjuk's exact service details at the camp.
The Prosecution's Alleged Demjanjuk Timeline of Service
In a nutshell, this is what the Justice Department alleges was Demjanjuk's service for the Waffen SS:
He was captured by the Germans in May of 1942 at the Battle of Kerch in the Crimea. He was imprisoned at a POW camp in Rovno, Ukraine.
Thousands of prisoners at Rovno were recruited for service and training at Trawniki to assist in the early stages of the 'Final Solution'. Prosecution alleges Demjanjuk was one of those who were recruited.
Sometime before July 19, 1942 he volunteered for service with the Waffen SS and was issued ID card # 1393 at the camp in Trawniki. While there, he was trained for a short time in moving and guarding Jewish prisoners.
After July 1942, Guard # 1393 was assigned to the Okzow Manorial Estate, an SS and police base near Chelm, in the Lublin District of Nazi-occupied Poland.
Guard # 1393 was transferred to the Majdanek Concentration Camp between August and December, 1942.
On January 21, 1943 a disciplinary report on Guard #1393 was issued to he and three other guards for 'breaking quarantine' at Majdanek.
Alleges defendant returned from Majdanek to Trawniki Training Camp by March 26, 1943. On that same day, a transfer roster identifies Guard # 1393 as one of 80 guards transferred to the Sorbibor Concentration Camp.
From the court ruling in 2002:
'The Trawniki-trained guards assigned to Sobibor met arriving transports of Jews, forcibly unloaded the Jews from the trains, compelled them to disrobe, and drove them into gas chambers where they were murdered by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide.'
Alleges defendant returned to Trawniki at the end of September, 1943 after a six-month assignment.
Defendant is identified on the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp transfer roster (dated October 1, 1943) at entry 53 by his name, rank, date of birth, place of birth, and the identification number 1393.
A weapons log from Flossenburg, dated April 1, 1944 shows that upon his arrival the previous year, the defendant was issued a rifle and bayonet.
A transfer log document from Flossenburg dated January 1945 shows that Guard # 1393 was transferred away from the camp after approximately 16 months of service.
The Future for John Demjanjuk
The German courts are presently bringing him to trial. They seem convinced that this time it is not a case of mistaken identity, and that enough evidence has been unearthed for a conviction.
One thing of possible note: The desertion rate in the Trawniki Unit was very high. Yet Guard # 1393 never tried to leave. Whether he was John Demjanjuk is for a jury to decide, but whoever he was...he enjoyed his job enough to stick around until the very end.
Should he be restored his U.S. citizenship and the rights that go with it? I think not.