The Deportation of Demjanjuk

In his May 12th New York Times report on the deportation of 89-year-old alleged Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk to Germany, Nicholas Kulish writes:

“Ultimately Mr. Demjanjuk’s advanced age and poor health serve as reminders, regardless of the outcome in court, of how the living memory of the crimes committed during World War II is on the verge of disappearing. Mr. Demjanjuk’s case might well be the last major war crimes trial in Germany, marking the end of an era that began in Nuremberg in 1945.”

Exactly what era is that? In its list of Nazi war crimes trials, the Jewish Virtual Library lists four during the 1960s: the Eichmann Trial (1961), the Second Auschwitz Trial (1963-65), the Treblinka Trial (1964-65), and the Sobibor Trial (1966). Since then, Klaus Barbie (previously a long-term C.I.A. asset) was tried in Lyons (1987); and 10 former members of the Nazi SS were tried in absentia in Italy in 2005, for the Sant’Anna di Stazzema Massacre of 1944. They were convicted, but the Jewish Virtual Library states: “The men are still in Germany due to a German policy of not extraditing its own citizens. A court in Stuttgart is still researching the event in preparation for a possible trial in Germany.” The most recent sources that the JVL cites are from 2005.

The era to which Kulish refers is not the era of Nazi war crimes trials. Since 1977, when the Justice Department first asked that his U.S. citizenship be revoked, it has been for all practical purposes the 32-year era of alleged John Demjanjuk war crimes trials. The Office of Special Investigations of the Justice Department was established in 1979.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry about the OSI consists almost entirely of an account of the Demjanjuk case. The only other reference is to one Adam Friedrich, de-naturalized as an American citizen in 2004 as a result having been a member of the Waffen-SS who served as a guard at the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. Wikipedia says nothing about Friedrich’s fate beyond that.

The “era of Nazi war crimes trials” has also, since the late 1940s, been the era of Nazis or ex-Nazis living out their lives in relative prosperity and dying by natural causes. At the close of this era, we find a former Ukrainian/Soviet P.O.W. of the Nazis being tried by Germans. Given the substance and tone conveyed by news accounts, the reader is to see this as unproblematic.

Even if the allegations against Demjanjuk are proved to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, fair and honest questions would remain: How has justice been served? Who has benefitted? To what political purpose? In denial of what larger truth?

David Green lives in Champaign, IL and can be reached at davidgreen50@gmail.com.

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