According to Germany’s Demjanjuk decision, even serving as an accessory to murder is a punishable crime.
In 1986, John “Ivan” Demjanjuk was deported from the US to Israel to stand trial for committing murder and acts of extraordinary violence against humanity during the years 1942 and 1943. Dozens of Israeli Holocaust survivors identified Demjanjuk as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notorious prison guard at the Treblinka extermination camp.
Between November 1986 and April 1988 a special tribunal made up of Supreme Court justice Dov Levin and Jerusalem District Court judges Zvi Tal and Dalia Dorner heard the case, which was open to TV crews and took place in Jerusalem’s International Convention Center.
Clearly, an effort was made to publicize the proceedings, which, like the 1962 Adolf Eichmann trial, was used as a means of confronting the horrors – and the moral lessons – of the Holocaust.
Like Eichmann, Demjanjuk was found guilty under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law of 1950 and sentenced to death by hanging – the second case of capital punishment in Israel’s history.
But Demjanjuk appealed and in 1993 the Supreme Court, sitting as an expanded five-man panel of judges, overturned the lower court’s decision. Justices Aharon Barak, Menachem Elon, Meir Shamgar, Eliezer Goldberg and Avraham Halima – basing themselves in part on new evidence that became available after the disintegration of the Soviet Union – ruled that a reasonable doubt remained as to whether or not Demjanjuk was in fact Ivan the Terrible.
Holocaust survivors and others brought at least 10 petitions demanding that Demjanjuk be tried for lesser war crimes while serving as a guard in other concentration camps including Sobibor and Majdanek.
But the attorney-general and the Supreme Court decided to let Demjanjuk go based on legal technicalities.
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