John Demjanjuk 91 Dogged by Charges of Atrocities as Nazi Camp Guard Dies

Publié le par The New York Times - Robert D. McFadden

JournalThe New York Times published 17/03/2012 by Robert D. McFadden

The stranger settled in Cleveland after World War II with his wife and little girl. He became an autoworker and changed his first name from Ivan to John. He had two more children, became a naturalized American, lived quietly and retired. His war and the terrors of concentration camps were all but forgotten.

Dusty card DemjanjukDecades later, the past came back to haunt John Demjanjuk. And for the rest of his life it hovered over a tortuous odyssey of denunciations by Nazi hunters and Holocaust survivors, of questions over his identity, citizenship revocations, deportation orders and eventually trials in Israel and Germany for war crimes.

He was convicted and reprieved in Israel and, steadfastly denying the accusations, was appealing a guilty verdict in Germany when he died on Saturday at a nursing home in southern Germany, his son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said. He was 91.

Even at the end of his life questions remained in a case that had always been riddled with mysteries.

Had he been, as he and his family claimed, a Ukrainian prisoner of war in Germany and Poland who made his way to America and became a victim of mistaken identity? Or had he been, as prosecutors charged, a collaborating guard who willingly participated in the killing of Jews at the Treblinka, Majdanek and Sobibor death camps?

Nazi hunters and protesters who had demonstrated outside his home for years had no doubts. Nor did the Justice Department. Mr. Demjanjuk, stripped of his citizenship in 1981, was deported to Israel, where witnesses and an identity card of “Ivan the Terrible,” a sadist who had murdered thousands of Jews at Treblinka, had turned up. The photograph on the card bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Demjanjuk.

He was placed on trial, convicted in 1988 of crimes against humanity and sentenced to be hanged. But five years later, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction when new evidence showed that another Ukrainian was probably the notorious Ivan. Back in America, Mr. Demjanjuk regained his citizenship, only to have it revoked again as new allegations arose.

Deported to Germany in 2009, Mr. Demjanjuk, suffering from bone-marrow and kidney diseases, was tried in a Munich court on charges in the killing of 27,900 Jews at the Sobibor camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943. In the nearly seven decades since 250,000 people were put to death at Sobibor, no surviving witnesses, even those who had been shown photographs, could place him at the scene.

The case was largely based on documentary evidence — an S.S. identity card purporting to be Mr. Demjanjuk’s, Nazi orders sending the man identified as Mr. Demjanjuk to work as a guard at Sobibor and other records of the era — and testimony by relatives of victims killed in the camp.

In May 2011, the Munich court found Mr. Demjanjuk guilty and sentenced him to five years in prison. He was credited with two years of pretrial detention, leaving three left to serve if an appeal failed. Pending the appeal, he was released from prison and transferred to a nursing home. The court said his age, infirmity and statelessness made it unlikely he would flee.

Even some relatives of the victims, who were recognized as co-complainants at the trial, said it was the proof of guilt, finally, that counted. “Whether it’s three, four or five years doesn’t really matter,” said David van Huiden, who lost his mother, father and sister at Sobibor. “He took part. He volunteered.”

Mr. Demjanjuk’s son, however, said that under German law, a conviction is not official until appeals are completed, and that his father’s death had the effect of “voiding” the Munich verdict.

Mr. Demjanjuk died a “a victim and a survivor of Soviet and German brutality,” his son said, adding, “History will show Germany used him as a scapegoat to blame helpless Ukrainian P.O.W.’s for the deeds of Nazi Germans.”

Ivan Demjanjuk (pronounced (dem-YAHN-yook) was born on April 3, 1920, in Dubovye Makharintsy, a village in Ukraine, to impoverished, disabled parents. The family nearly starved in a forced famine in the early 1930s that left millions dead in Ukraine. He had only four years of schooling, and was drafted into the Soviet Army in 1941. In 1942, the Germans wounded and captured him in the Crimea. What he did for the rest of the war was the crux of the issues surrounding his later life.

Publié dans Articles de Presse

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