By Martin Mendelsohn
Special To The Jewish Week
As a representative of the Sobibor survivors at the last trial of John Demjanjuk, convicted of Nazi war crimes before his death at 91 last March, I offer a perspective on the trial, which was fair and without bias. The notion of war crimes and the prosecution for the violation of the international norms of legal behavior is something that permeated 20th-century diplomatic and legal thinking. It was a logical extension that “war crimes” and crimes against humanity would be prosecuted after the First World War. The first war crimes trials in Germany were held in the 1920s by German courts. Virtually all of the defendants were acquitted and the effort was soon abandoned, but it gave us the seeds that produced the process and the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945.
Category Archive: War Crimes Trials
By Martin Mendelsohn
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.
March 17th — John Demjanjuk, the Cleveland auto worker convicted for crimes he committed as a Nazi death camp guard, died in a German nursing home. Demjanjuk, 91, died Saturday at an old-age home in southern Germany, where he was free while he appealed his conviction last year for his role in the murder of 28,060 people at the Sobibor death camp in Poland. Demjanjuk, born and raised in Ukraine, was first identified as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp, in the 1970s. In 1986, U.S. authorities deported him to Israel. A court there sentenced him to death, but during his appeal process the Israeli prosecution uncovered evidence suggesting that another man had been “Ivan.” Although substantial evidence emerged during the trial identifying him as a guard at Sobibor, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered him released.
Locked inside U.N. headquarters is a huge but largely unknown archive documenting 10,000 cases against accused World War II criminals, from Belgian charges against Adolf Hitler to the trial of a Japanese commander for inciting rape. Leading British and American researchers are campaigning to make the files — hundreds of thousands of pages in 400 boxes — public for the first time in 60 years, arguing that they are not only historically valuable but also might unearth legal precedents that could help bring some of today’s war criminals to justice. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is also seeking to have the archive opened. “It’s outrageous that material which could help bring today’s war criminals to justice and improve our understanding of the Holocaust is still secret,” said British academic Dan Plesch, who is leading the push for access. “The whole archive should be online for scholars and historians.”
The archive belonged to the United Nations War Crimes Commission, a body established in October 1943 by 17 allied nations to issue lists of alleged war criminals — ultimately involving approximately 37,000 individuals — examine the charges against them and try to assure their arrest and trial.
Special To The Jewish Week
By Menachem Z. Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
Better late, even extremely, excruciatingly late, than never. MSNBC’s decision to oust Patrick Buchanan as its arch-conservative political commentator last week was long overdue.
Some of Buchanan’s erstwhile colleagues at the network are voicing their unhappiness at this development. “Mika [Brzezinski] and I strongly disagree with this outcome,” Joe Scarborough wrote on his Politico blog. Praising Buchanan’s “relentless genialities” and his “deep, even formidable, loyalty,” Chris Matthews told his viewers that “obviously, I’m going to miss his cheerful, fun-loving irascible presence around here.” Before Buchanan is turned into a veritable martyr, a review of his record seems in order.
I first crossed swords with Buchanan in 1987 after I had written a New York Times op-ed in which I called for the deportation of Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas, and said that Buchanan’s “oft-expressed sympathy” for a succession of such Nazi war criminals was a “constitutionally protected perversion.” Sticking to his guns, Buchanan took umbrage in a Letter to the Editor at what he considered a “nasty personal slur” and “flippant libelous insult.” Buchanan likened another Nazi war criminal to Jesus Christ. When John Demjanjuk was about to be deported to Germany, where he would eventually be tried and convicted for his role in the murder of 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp, Buchanan in his syndicated column of April 17, 2009, not only called Demjanjuk an “American Dreyfus” and “the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany’s sins,” but he wrote that the “spirit” behind the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is “the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago.”
BERLIN — John Demjanjuk, who was convicted last year of serving as a Nazi death camp guard, is asking for German state financial help to sue the country’s biggest-selling newspaper for alleged defamation, a court said Thursday. Duesseldorf state court spokesman Ulrich Egger told The Associated Press that Demjanjuk is complaining Bild newspaper’s website labeled him a “war criminal” and a “Nazi henchman” before he was convicted last May of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder.
CLEVELAND — The government has asked a judge to stick with a decision denying convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk a chance to regain his U.S. citizenship, arguing that the retired autoworker is just trying to drag out the case. Demjanjuk’s appeal for reconsideration “rehashes old arguments” and “is nothing more than an effort to prolong this litigation by any means necessary,” the government said in a filing Thursday night in U.S. District Court. Demjanjuk, 91, who lived for many years in Seven Hills in suburban Cleveland, was convicted by a German court on more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder. The court found he had worked as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
BERLIN — A 90-year-old man convicted last year of killing three Dutch civilians while he was part of a Nazi SS hit squad during World War II has been taken to prison to start serving his life sentence. Heinrich Boere was taken Wednesday from the old-age home where he lived to a detention facility.