The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Demjanjuk Case
Factual & Legal Details

JULY 28, 1993

The following pages present a review, outlining in broad strokes the chain of events of what eventually became the legal case of the State of Israel versus Ivan Demjanjuk.

The review presents the broader view of the history of the case and has no pretensions to giving an exhaustive account of or even encompassing the sea of factual and legal issues dealt with in the past 15 years in various courts of law in the United States and Israel.

(1975 - 1986)


In October 1975, there came into the possession of certain members of the U.S. Senate a list of Nazi war criminals living -- so the document alleged -- in the U.S. The list gave the suspects' names and personal particulars, in most cases also stating what they had done during World War II.

The information listed evidently emanated from material collated in the Soviet Union, consisting of authentic German documents

captured by the Red Army when occupying territories under Nazi control in the summer of 1944.

One of the names appearing on the list was that of John Ivan Demjanjuk -- a U.S. resident since 1951 and a citizen of Cleveland, Ohio since 1958.


As listed, Demjanjuk (born April 3, 1920 in the Ukraine) was a soldier in the Red Army who, falling into German captivity, volunteered for service in the S.S, underwent training and preparation at the S.S. training camp in the township of Trawniki, Poland, where he served from March 1943 as an S.S. Wachman at the Sobibor death camp, and later at the Floenbuerg concentration camp. ('S.S. Wachman' was the Nazi code name for the non-German S.S. hobnail-booted soldiers who aided the Germans in exterminating the Jews throughout the war years. The Wachmans actually fulfilled many functions in the process of realization of the 'final solution': commencing with the physical expulsion of Jews from their ghetto homes during 'actions', through packing them into cattle-trucks at the 'umschlagplatz', escorting and guarding them on the trains while shooting escapees, to mass executions, in which victims were forced into gas chambers at the death camps).


Nothing in U.S. statute provided for preferment of criminal charges for war crimes against suspects of Demjanjuk's kind. The only way the State could take any legal action against him at all was by conducting a trial, starting with the filing of a complaint on grounds of obtaining citizenship on false pretenses, and ending with stripping the defendant of his citizenship. The fraud consisted of having concealed past actions that, had the authorities known of in real time, would not have granted him an entry visa to the United States, much less American citizenship.

Once he was denaturalized, the authorities had the option of initiating deportation proceedings against the defendant (if he did not preempt them by emigrating from the United States of his own volition) and/or proceedings for extraditing him to another country.


Once in possession of the list, some of the aforesaid senators hastened to forward it to the legal instance in charge at that time of filing lawsuits for the negation of citizenship (I.N.S.) -- a section in the U.S. Justice Department affiliated to the Department of Immigration and Naturalization. After a while, an analysis of the list was begun along with an initial research on the data it presented.


The preliminary I.N.S study of the Demjanjuk case focused on his immigration and naturalization dossier dating from the fifties. Among the papers in this file were forms he had filled out, applications he had submitted, and summations of interviews conducted with him by U.S immigration officers in Germany, during the years 1947-1951 when, as a displaced persons camp inmate, he expressed the wish to immigrate to the United States.

The said examination revealed that in one of the more important of these forms, dated March 4, 1948, where he was required to give particulars of members of his family and describe his own doings during the war, Demjanjuk himself warranted in writing that during and before the war he was a 'farmer in Poland in a settlement called Sobibor'. (Demjanjuk signed his name to this form).


Cross-referencing between the information shown on the list (deriving, it will be recalled, from the U.S.S.R.), whereby Demjanjuk served with the S.S. as a Wachman at the Sobibor death camp and Demjanjuk's own entries on the form he had himself signed in Germany, stating that he was in fact at a place called 'Sobibor' -- eventually assumed great significance.


A. The investigative activities of the I.N.S. at that time (1976), insofar as they related to nazi criminals, went on to target other suspects named by the same list in connection with incriminating information or indications of it. Thus for example, they researched the past of another criminal, Fyodor Federenko -- who, the list alleged, had been an S.S. Wachman at the Treblinka death camp in Poland, and later at the Stutthof concentration camp (Poland).

B. As regards both Demjanjuk and Federenko, the I.N.S. decided that apart from interrogating them and their families, an attempt would be made to locate witnesses in various parts of the world who might remember them and what they did during the war, in addition to any possible documentary evidence yielding proof of their crimes.

C. The I.N.S. investigative effort was directed, inter alia, towards Israel. Operating in Israel at that time was a police unit for the investigation of nazi crimes (INC), successor to the '06 Bureau' founded as part of the preparations for the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

D. Since the Eichmann trial, INC had undertaken numerous investigations -- most of them pursuant to official applications by investigatory authorities in various parts of the world. Evidence collected by the unit in Israel served as proof of nazi crimes in court cases conducted in various countries from time to time.

E. On February 20, 1976, I.N.S. sent INC a memorandum naming certain Ukrainians who were suspected of involvement in persecution and acts of cruelty towards people during the war, in the service of Nazi Germany. Ivan Demjanjuk and Fiodor Federenko were named in the memorandum as having operated in the Sobibor death camp (Demjanjuk) and Treblinka (Federenko). (This after undergoing training at the S.S. training camp in Trawniki).

INC was asked to make an effort to ascertain whether available witnesses such as eye witnesses, able to supply information on any one of the suspects could be found in Israel.

F. Annexed to the memoranda were snapshots (of the passport photograph variety) of the suspects. These were to be shown to potential witnesses while being debriefed, and statements were to be taken from them on the subject. The photographs were mostly taken from immigration dossiers in the United States, proximity to real time being two years to eight years after the event.


A. In 1976 the INC called in for questioning a number of Israeli citizens listed as having been rescued from the inferno of Treblinka or Sobibor.

B. Most of these citizens, survivors of Treblinka, summoned for questioning due to the possibility of their having been acquainted with and able to recognize the nazi criminal Federenko - pointed in the course of their interrogation, when shown all of the photographs or part of them, to the photograph of Demjanjuk as of that of a Wachman they knew from Treblinka and remembered as 'Ivan' who operated the gas chambers there. (Some recalled that this individual was known as 'Ivan the Terrible' because of his notorious cruelty). Some on this occasion also identified the photograph of Federenko whom they knew as a ranking Wachman in Treblinka and of whom they also reported remembered details of his crimes there.

C. A female INC interrogator (a lawyer by profession) who was coordinating investigations concerning both Federenko and Demjanjuk, responded with surprise to the identification of Demjanjuk as a criminal from Treblinka. She did all she could to suggest to the interrogees the possibility that they might be mistaken, if only by reason of the fact that according to the information in the I.N.S. memorandum, Demjanjuk was an S.S. Wachman at the Sobibor camp; but to no avail. The interrogees stuck to their spontaneous identification, insistently repeating that this was a snapshot of 'Ivan the Terrible' of Treblinka.

D. All depositions taken from these interrogees, concerning both Federenko and Demjanjuk, were forwarded that same year (1976) to the I.N.S. for its consideration.


A. Denaturalization proceedings in the United States are inherently civil proceedings and accordingly subject to civil procedure laws and their derivative rules. In the course of these proceedings an exchange of correspondence took place in the Demjanjuk file, between them and the Court. Pleadings were written, interrogatories were exchanged, discovery of documents was instituted, depositions were taken in preliminary interrogations, and thus thousands more pages accumulated in the file before court hearings began.

B. In the summer of 1977, the I.N.S. instituted denaturalization proceedings against Federenko and Demjanjuk -- in respect of crimes committed during by them during World War II, as S.S. Wachmans. The action against Federenko was brought in Miami, Florida, and that against Demjanjuk in Cleveland, Ohio.

C. Demjanjuk was cited as having concealed acts of murder and abuse of thousands of persons at the Treblinka death camp (as operator of th chambers) and at Sobibor (after having trained for the job at the S.S. training camp at Trawniki); and consequently of having fraudulently obtained U.S. citizenship.


A. Federenko's trial commenced as early as 1978, ended in 1979 with his denaturalization (Federenko admitted to having been a Wachman at Treblinka, thereby confirming the camp survivors' identification of him. In his defense, however, he pleaded that he had not brought to the ground a single hair of the heads of the Jews at that camp, and that evidence against him was accordingly untrue. The District Court upheld the defense pleadings, dismissing the action against him; but on appeal, his defense was set aside and he was stripped of his U.S. citizenship.

The commencement of Demjanjuk's trial, by contrast, was long delayed, and it was not until February 10, 1981 that the parties and the court were satisfied that the case was ripe for evidence to begin to be heard.

B. One of the reasons for the delay was that in 1979, after a series of congressional debates, (initiated by congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, a jurist) there was formed in the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice, a body given the title of 'Office of Special Investigations' (O.S.I.). The O.S.I. was mandated to do just one job -- to identify nazi criminals living in the United States, to investigate them, collect evidence against them, bring them to trial, strip them of their U.S. citizenship and deport or extradite them. To do this job, the O.S.I. assembled a team of jurists, attorneys-at-law, historians, researchers and service personnel; and was allocated an initial budget of U.S.$ 1.3 million.

C. With the creation of the O.S.I. (over the course of 1979) and upon completion of its initial formation stages, the I.N.S. transferred handling of the entire 'nazi issue' to the O.S.I.

D. The Demjanjuk investigation was then in full swing, and his file was examined by the newly created O.S.I. Thus it was not until February 1981 that the case crystallized and the Demjanjuk trial commenced in Cleveland, Ohio.


Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship by Federal Court Judge Frank Batisti of the northern district of Ohio, Cleveland, on June 25, 1981. In a lengthy, reasoned decision, the judge reviewed the historical background of relevant events, the evidence advanced by the prosecution and the defense's counter pleadings, the evidence of the counsel for the defense and its pleadings and the weight they carried, and reached the conclusion that Demjanjuk had deceived the Court, that the version of the witnesses for the prosecution was the truth, and that Demjanjuk had obtained his citizenship under false pretenses, in as much as he had concealed the fact of his service with the S.S. in Treblinka and Trawniki. (The Court notes that since it had established findings regarding Treblinka and Trawniki, which sufficed for the defendant's denaturalization, it had not gone into the details of Demjanjuk's service with the S.S. at the Sobibor death camp).


A. Following Judge Batisti's decision between the years 1981-1986 (when Demjanjuk was physically extradited to Israel), various legal proceedings took place in the United States concerning him.

B. Altogether, the various aspects of the subject were studied in the United States before ten legal instances which heard pleadings, reexamined evidence and studied factual and legal aspects of the case. Time and again the Courts reached the conclusion that Demjanjuk was a nazi war criminal against whom there existed evidence founded on crimes committed by him in the service of the S.S. in general and in the Treblinka camp in particular. It was accordingly decided that his denaturalization was just and his deportation and extradition to Israel based on solid evidence.


A. On February 26, 1986, Demjanjuk was brought to Israel accompanied by two U.S. government Marshals. This concluded a five-year chapter that had commenced with contacts between the U.S. government and Israel on the issue of the extradition of nazi criminals living in the United States and ended with Demjanjuk's extradition.

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