The John Demjanjuk story begins in October 1975, when a list of names of alleged Nazi war criminals was circulated amongst members of the US senate. The list originated with the Soviet Union’s KGB, allegedly out of material captured by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II.
One of the names appearing on the list was that of John Ivan Demjanjuk – an Ukrainian who had immigrated to the USA in 1951 and who had been living in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1958.
The KGB document alleged that Demjanjuk had been a soldier in the Red Army who, after falling into German captivity, had volunteered for service in the S.S.
Demjanjuk, had, said the Soviet document, undergone training at the SS camp in the town of Trawniki, Poland. He had, continued the document, served from March 1943 as an SS guard at the Sobibor camp, and later at the Floenbuerg concentration camp.
US GOVERNMENT STARTS DENATURALISATION AND CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION PROCEEDINGS
Acting on this information, the US government started proceedings to strip Demjanjuk of his citizenship, based on his alleged concealment of his Nazi past from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In addition, the US Government instructed its Department of Justice to start a full investigation into the allegations contained in the Soviet document, in preparation for a deportation hearing to send Demjanjuk to Israel for trial.
ISRAELIS FIND “EYEWITNESSES” WHO PLACE DEMJANJUK AT TREBLINKA
In February 1976, the American government requested the Israeli government’s co-operation in finding Israeli citizens who were survivors from the Sobibor camp who might be able to identify Demjanjuk.
The source of identification was passport photographs submitted by Demjanjuk to the INS during his application for citizenship in 1950 -- the logic being that Demjanjuk would still appear relatively similar to how he had looked in 1943.
During 1976, the Israeli police identified a number of Jews who were on record as having been rescued or escaped from the Treblinka or Sobibor camps.
These “survivors”, when shown the photographs of Demjanjuk, identified him as a guard called “Ivan the Terrible” who had allegedly operated the gas chamber at Treblinka.
Despite the American government actually having identified Demjanjuk as having been a guard at the geographically separate Sobibor camp, the “eyewitness survivors” placed Demjanjuk at the Treblinka camp, and of being the gas chamber operator there.
DEMJANJUK STRIPPED OF US CITIZENSHIP, DEPORTED TO ISRAEL
The next year, 1977, the INS instituted denaturalisation proceedings against Demjanjuk. While these proceedings were underway, the US Department of Justice then created an Office of Special Investigations (OSI) who sole job it was to track down alleged Nazi war criminals in the USA.
Partly as a result of the delay caused by the creation of the OSS, Demjanjuk’s denaturalization hearing only began in February 1981. In June 1985, he was finally stripped of his US citizenship, and became the subject of a deportation hearing served by the state of Israel.
It took another five years of legal wrangling before Demjanjuk was finally deported to Israel in 1986 to stand trial.
ISRAELI CASE BASED ON EYEWITNESSES AND SS ID CARD
The State of Israel's application for extradition was based on the testimony of “eyewitnesses” and a SS identification card, allegedly issued to Demjanjuk upon completion of his training at the Trawniki SS camp.
Above: The "Trawniki Certificate" - a SS identification card bearing Demjanjuk's name and photograph. Supplied by the KGB, it was a critical piece of evidence - until the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed it to be revealed as a KGB forgery.
This card, which became known as the ‘Trawniki certificate” was a pivotal piece of evidence, as it contained Demjanjuk’s photograph.
The card itself had been provided to the prosecution directly out of Soviet records.
Along with the identification card, the prosecution produced five “eyewitnesses” who all testified that Demjanjuk was “Ivan the Terrible” who operated gas chambers in Treblinka.
DEMJANJUK DENIES ALL CHARGES
Demjanjuk’s defence was that he had been captured by the Germans and had remained in their captivity throughout the war, never serving with the SS.
The prosecution dismissed his defence, producing eye witness identifying him personally, and an SS-identification card with his photograph – the case against Demjanjuk seemed overwhelming, and unsurprisingly, no-one believed him.
EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS FINGER DEMJANJUK
The first ‘survivor’ to testify, Pinhas Epstein, took the stand on 23 February 1987, and told the court that “I am convinced that opposite me sits Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka” (Reuters, 23 February 1987).
Epstein said he saw a photograph of Demjanjuk in an album shown to him in 1978 by Israeli investigators. "I was shown an album and my attention was drawn to one picture, and I identified it as that of Ivan.” (Reuters, 23 February 1987).
“I said the photo was not particularly sharp. It was older than the Ivan I knew, but it was still him. The frame, the round face, the short neck, the wide shoulders and the protruding ears. I told them this is the Ivan I remember,” Epstein said. (Reuters, 23 February 1987.)
The next ‘survivor eyewitness’, Eliyhau Rosenberg, then told the court on 25 February 1987: “This man is Ivan, without a shadow of a doubt – Ivan from Treblinka, from the gas chambers, - the man I am looking at now,” (Reuters, 25 February 1987).
Rosenberg testified that he got to know Demjanjuk really well, and that once Demjanjuk had given him 30 lashes for stealing bread, and had then forced him to say “thank you.” (Reuters, 25 February 1987).
Rosenberg went to tell the court that at the age of 12, he was forced to remove bodies from the gas chambers and bury or burn them. “We soon discovered that women and children burned quicker than men. The Germans would tell us: ‘Throw the children first because they burn faster,’ ” Rosenberg said. (Reuters, 25 February 1987).
DEMJANJUK CONVICTED, SENTENCED TO DEATH
To no-one’s surprise, the Israeli Court found Demjanjuk guilty on 18 April 18, 1988, and a week later, sentenced him to death for the only crime in Israel which carries the death penalty – being a Nazi.
The conviction had been obtained based primarily on the SS identification card and the eyewitness accounts which identified Demjanjuk as the gas chamber operator at Treblinka.
The defence immediately appealed, citing numerous irregularities in court procedure, rules of evidence and other issues.
SOVIET UNION’S COLLAPSE REVEALS TRAWNIKI FORGERY
At a critical juncture in the appeal process -- when Demjanjuk’s life hung in the balance -- fate intervened. One of the appeal judges had a heart attack, and the case was postponed.
During the postponement, in 1990, the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed.
As a result, the KGB archives on the case were opened (the reader will recall that the original list and Trawniki certificate had originated with the KGB).
In the KGB file dealing with Demjanjuk, the shocking truth was revealed: the Trawniki certificate had been forged to frame the Ukrainian as part of a campaign against Ukrainian nationalists.
Above: Holocaust "survivor" and eyewitness: Eliyhau Rosenberg breaks down in the Israeli courtroom after identifying John Demjanjuk as 'Ivan the Terrible'. Rosenberg's testimony, like ALL the "survivors" who testified against Demjanjuk, was shown to be false.
CASE COLLAPSES - DEMJANJUK ACQUITTED ON APPEAL
Faced with the exposure of the Trawniki certificate as an outrageous forgery, the Israeli Supreme Court, to its credit, acknowledged that the entire case against Demjanjuk had been fabricated from start to finish, and acquitted him in July 1993, stating that there was no evidence to show that Demjanjuk was indeed ‘Ivan the Terrible.’
On 22 September 1993, John Demjanjuk was finally released and allowed to return home to Cleveland, Ohio – an innocent man who spent seven years in an Israeli jail, because of a KGB forgery and a pack of fabricated evidence from “holocaust survivors.”
Above: John Demjanjuk, still in his Israeli prison clothes, laughs with delight after his acquittal - and the Israeli Supreme Court's dismissal of the "eyewitness" accounts which claimed to have seen him operating a gas chamber at Treblinka camp.
ISRAELI SUPREME COURT DISMISSES “EYEWITNESS” EVIDENCE
Implicit in its dismal of the case against Demjanjuk, the Israeli Supreme Court tacitly acknowledged that ALL of the eye witness accounts which placed Demjanjuk at Treblinka, were false – as, of course, they were.
For this reason, the John Demjanjuk case serves as an outstanding example of just how unreliable "holocaust survivor eyewitnesses” are. For if the Israeli Supreme Court could not bring itself to believe them – and that institution, of all, would be the most likely to take their word – then this serves as an indication of just how false these accounts are.
If the ‘survivors’ could lie so blatantly in identifying Demjanjuk, then it is fair to ask what else in their testimony was fabricated?
NEW TRIAL IS A FARCE
Despite being acquitted by the Israeli Supreme Court, the Holocaust Lobby did not give up their campaign against Mr Demjanjuk.
Incredibly, their main piece of evidence, the “Trawniki” card has been produced once again in the new trial in Germany. Only time will tell if the German courts are as honest as the Israeli Supreme Court -- but don’t hold your breath.