Will Zuzak writes…
wz> Two years ago today, 22 September 1993, John Demjanjuk was finally
wz> released from an Israeli jail and allowed to return home to Cleveland, Ohio
wz> after an 18 year ordeal.
wz> Sadly, the OSI personnel of the U.S. Department of Justice, who
wz> conspired to have an innocent man hanged for crimes that he did not commit,
wz> have still not been brought to justice.
Three years ago yellow ribbons hung from houses throughout Seven Hills,
Ohio. The Cleveland suburb was awaiting the return of John Demjanjuk following
his acquittal in Israel. Seven Hills had been his home since 1958, the same
year he changed his name from Ivan to John.
The Cleveland media reported on Demjanjuk’s identification in 1977, his
denaturalization and extradition, the Israeli trial and conviction, and his
successful appeal, as the saga of a Ukrainian immigrant mistaken for a Nazi
criminal known as ‘Ivan the Terrible.’ Mike Conway, then a reporter for WJW-
TV in Cleveland, began covering the story more than eleven years ago. On
Demjanjuk’s return to Cleveland, the family gave Conway the exclusive right
to broadcast images of Demjanjuk back in the bosom of his loving family. The
video, shot in Demjanjuk’s living room, showed a smiling John Demjanjuk playing
with a grandchild born during the trial in Israel. Conway began the report by
playing Tony Orlando’s recording of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak
Ohio Congressman James Trafficant has been a vigorous Demjanjuk supporter
since the start of the trial in Israel. After Demjanjuk was convicted of
crimes against humanity, Trafficant the defense in obtaining previously un-
released documents from the Justice Department. The documents proved crucial
to Demjanjuk’s appeal.
When Demjanjuk was acquitted in 1992, Trafficant proposed a bill calling
for the federal government to provide financial compensation for Demjanjuk’s
pain and suffering.” The motion was never seconded.
Trafficant continues to insist Demjanjuk was never a camp guard and should
have his American citizenship restored Trafficant conceded he has never
examined the evidence or read the trial transcripts.
Demjanjuk’s image as a victim of injustice was further enhanced by a 1993
ruling from the U. S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court declared that
during Demjanjuk’s extradition the Justice Department’s Office of Special
Investigations improperly concealed the documents obtained by Trafficant.
Some of the OSI documents suggested another Ukrainian was known as ‘Ivan the
Terrible’ at the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
Demjanjuk insists he was in a POW camp in Chelm, Poland for the duration
of the war. It was later shown that the camp did not exist at the Demjanjuk
claims to have been there. Although Demjanjuk had changed his alibi numerous
times, the Chelm story is the one he used most often. It was the one that he
settled on during the closing arguments of his trial. To this day, it remains
Today most Clevelanders believe Demjanjuk is innocent. Others, who concede
he probably worked for the SS in the death camps, insist the matter should be
dropped because Demjanjuk is an old man and his crime took place more than half
a century ago.
Members of Cleveland’s Jewish community see it differently. They are per-
plexed by people who believe in Demjanjuk’s innocence, and angered by those
indifferent to his past.
A small number of Holocaust survivors and their supporters demonstrate in
front of Demjanjuk’s home whenever the Demjanjuk case makes news. They carry
signs reading “We Know the Truth” and “6,000,000 Witnesses Call for Justice!”
They chant “Nazis out of America,” or “Nazis back to the Ukraine.” The chants
are not loud. They mostly march in silence.
On one occasion Demjanjuk’s next-door neighbor had a brief exchange with a
middle-aged demonstrator. The neighbor watched the marchers while sweeping his
garage. As they went past his house, he waved his fist and told them Jews
deserve whatever they get because of what they did to Jesus. The demonstrator
erupted. “Because you think some Jews killed your God, its okay to murder
thousands of Jewish children twenty centuries later? So that’s why Jews should
die?” A Holocaust survivor quieted his fellow demonstrator, and told him not
to have any exchanges with the neighbor, “no matter what that mamzer shouts at
When asked why Jews demonstrate in a neighborhood where the perception of
Demjanjuk as an innocent man seems unshakable and nearly unanimous, the middle-
aged demonstrator said he had six million reasons for being there. When asked
about the questionable behavior by the OSI. and the acquittal in Israel, he
replied, “Do you think we don’t know what we’re doing? Or do you believe we’re
knowingly hounding an innocent man? The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a
commentary titled “It’s Time to Close the Book on the Demjanjuk Case.” Can you
imagine a newspaperman telling his readers to stop seeking the truth? We’re
out here to demand the book on Demjanjuk be kept open, that the public see
Demjanjuk’s past for what it is. We aren’t here for revenge. We aren’t calling
for the executioner. We don’t want his head on a platter. We want him to know
we know what he did. We want everyone else to see the truth about Mr. John
Demjanjuk. Then we want him deported. He has no right to enjoy the privilege
of living in America. He never did.”
Contributing to his innocent image are his repeated claims of mistaken
identity, the reversal of his Israeli conviction, a ruling against the O.S.I.,
and skillful public relations by Demjanjuk’s principle spokesperson, son-in-
law Ed Nishnic.
Nishnic has been tireless and unrelenting in his father-in-law’s defense.
He has rarely stumbled in his role as choreographer of Demjanjuk’s public
image. And his damage control skills withstood the test when Demjanjuk’s cause
received public support from the Ku Klux Klan and the Institute for Historical
Review, the anti-Semitic organization created to disseminate the claim that the
Holocaust never happened.
At one point, groups claiming that the Holocaust never happened offered
their support to Demjanjuk. Nishnic distanced his father-in-law from their
support while denouncing Holocaust deniers.
Nishnic’s campaign to keep his Demjanjuk’s image from being associated with
Holocaust revisionists nearly met with disaster when Demjanjuk’s principal
financial backer began to emerge from the background.
Jerome Brentar is a wealthy Cleveland travel agent who has transferred an
estimated three million dollars to Demjanjuk. Much of this money, to cover
legal fees and travel expenses, came out of Brentar’s own pockets.
Brentar has never doubted Demjanjuk’s innocence. But Brentar’s reason for
believing in Demjanjuk is different than Nishnic’s.
Jerome Brentar is a Holocaust denier.
Brentar has addressed conferences of the Institute for Historical Review.
In his talks before the I.H.R., Brentar insisted that Demjanjuk was innocent
because the crimes he was charged with are a fabrication created by the Jews.
Jerome Brentar was born in Croatia and raised in Cleveland. In the early
post-war years Brentar, who could speak fluent German, returned to Europe.
There he screened thousands of refugees as an employee of the International
Refugee Organization. Between 1948 and 1950, Brentar and the late Dr. Edward
O’Connor, an official with the Catholic Relief Services, worked together to
secretly smuggle Nazis into the United States. In an interview published in
the Philadelphia Inquirer, Brentar admitted helping hundreds of Nazis defraud
their way into the United States. “Whether he was in the Waffen SS or the
Wehrmacht…I would permit them to be considered…”
Nishnic told the Cleveland Free Times, “It’s obviously an attempt to dis-
credit Mr. Demjanjuk by attacking those around him. I don’t think any serious
person accepts that Jerry Brentar is a Nazi sympathizer. In all the years I’ve
known him, he has never tried to push Holocaust denial on me….I find it sadly
humorous that people are making Mr. Brentar seem like a Nazi-smuggler.”
Edward O’Connor’s son Mark would later become Demjanjuk’s defense attorney.
Brentar’s pro-Nazi sympathies did not become public until Demjanjuk was
already on trial in Israel. But news coverage of the case focused on the trial
and Brentar’s past stayed in the background.
In 1994 Brentar unsuccessfully ran for congress. The one and only issue he
discussed during the campaign was the Demjanjuk case. Brentar claims he is
no longer wealthy, and has stopped financing Demjanjuk’s campaign.
The early adulthood of Ivan Demjanjuk is a far cry from the John Demjanjuk
myth, that of an old man thrust into a whirlpool of false accusations and legal
procedures unfettered by authentic innocence. One thing is certain. Demjanjuk
worked for the SS as a guard in at least one death camp, and probably more than
one. This was acknowledged by Demjanjuk’s attorneys who, in a defensive move,
established his Nazi past during the trial itself.
Demjanjuk’s Israeli attorney, Yoram Sheftel, introduced testimony by Ignat
Danielchenko. Danielchenko was a guard at the Sobibor death camp. (Unlike
Auschwitz, which was both a slave labor camp and an extermination factory,
Sobibor and Treblinka were designed and operated exclusively to exterminate
large numbers of people in the shortest possible time.) Danielchenko stated,
“I saw Mr. Demjanjuk escorting prisoners in all phases, from the unloading of
the trains to the entrance to the gas chamber.”
While such testimony would seem to put Demjanjuk in harm’s way, its purpose
was to protect him. Sheftel’s goal was to place Demjanjuk somewhere other than
Treblinka during the time in question. Demjanjuk was charged with having
committed crimes against humanity as a death camp guard known as ‘Ivan the
Terrible’ of Treblinka. He could only be tried for crimes committed under
this identity. A principle of law known as the doctrine of speciality prevents
Israel from trying Demjanjuk for any crime other than the specific crime for
which he was extradited. For this reason, proving Demjanjuk participated in
the murder of civilians at Sobibor during the time in question did not hurt his
case. Sheftel, sensing this strategy had potential drawbacks, abandoned the
Sobibor alibi during his closing arguments. He instead reverted to the original
alibi of having been a POW at Chelm.
On February 18, 1988 John Demjanjuk was found guilty of crimes against
humanity, Israel’s only capital offense. Two months later he was sentenced
to hang. By this time stories of another ‘Ivan’ had begun to circulate.
During the appeal, Sheftel introduced depositions taken in the 1950’s and
1960’s by KGB interrogators from 38 former Ukrainians who worked at Treblinka.
They named another Ukrainian, Ivan Marchenko, as a guard whom Jewish prisoners
called ‘Ivan the Terrible.’
According to Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, the KGB evidence naming
Marchenko as ‘Ivan the Terrible’ does not clear Demjanjuk. “Ivan is the most
common Ukrainian name. Any Ivan who was a guard at a killing camp would
obviously be called ‘Ivan the Terrible.’ And the Israelis had come up with
some evidence that there was more than one ‘Ivan the Terrible’ at Treblinka.”
Demjanjuk’s appeal was heard by members of Israel’s Supreme Court. In
September of 1992, the justices determined that the depositions created some
doubt that Demjanjuk was the one and only ‘Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka’ as
defined in the original indictment. Although the court acquitted Demjanjuk,
it did not declare him innocent. The acquittal stated that his Nazi service
at Sobibor, Trawniki, Flossenberg and Regensberg. The court also reaffirmed
its contention that based on the evidence and eyewitness testimony, Demjanjuk
had served at Treblinka. Dershowitz noted, “Even if he wasn’t ‘Ivan the
Terrible,’ he was certainly an Ivan who did terrible things at Treblinka.”
The substance of the court’s ruling did little to change the reporting by
Cleveland’s media. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the acquittal
“…prove[d] Demjanjuk was not Ivan the Terrible.” Last November the newspaper
published a 48-page Sunday supplement on Demjanjuk, titled “The Devil Knows
Where.” While continuing to insist that Demjanjuk was innocent of being ‘Ivan
the Terrible of Treblinka,’ it noted that his alibi was a lie. Reporters Bill
Sloat and Michelle Lesie wrote in the supplement’s prologue, “After 17 years
of litigation in courtrooms on two continents, it is finally clear that John
Demjanjuk was neither ‘Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka’ nor the hapless prisoner
he claims to have been throughout World War II.”
One month before Demjanjuk was acquitted in Israel, the U. S. 6th Circuit
Court of Appeals appointed U.S. District Judge Thomas Wiseman to investigate
charges of misconduct by the O.S.I. Wiseman ruled the O.S.I. had played games
with the evidence, but did not intentionally frame Demjanjuk. Wiseman also
noted that because of Demjanjuk’s Nazi SS service at Sobibor and his unbeliev-
able alibis, concocted to hide all of his Nazi service, Demjanjuk’s behavior
contributed to his extradition. Wiseman wrote, “Mr. Demjanjuk’s alibi was so
incredible as to legitimately raise the suspicions of his prosecutors that he
lied about everything.”
After Israel reversed his conviction, the 6th Circuit Appeals Court ordered
Demjanjuk temporarily readmitted to the country. The court declared that his
presence was necessary to assist his attorneys prepare for a hearing on the
O.S.I. matter. For reasons unknown, the court began and concluded the hearing
a week before Demjanjuk returned to America.
The Justice Department then claimed the extradition was now moot, and the
KGB documents have no bearing on Demjanjuk’s denaturalization. It was now
clear Demjanjuk had worked for the Nazis. The Justice Department also claimed
an order to deport Demjanjuk to the Ukraine was still in effect and, because of
Demjanjuk’s service at Sobibor, still legally ordered. (After Federal Judge
Frank Battistti stripped Demjanjuk of his citizenship, he appeared in immigra-
tion court in 1984, where he was ordered deported. When asked where he would
prefer to be deported, Demjanjuk refused to answer. Immigration Judge Robert
Angellelli then ordered him deported to the Ukraine. The order was signed by
Secretary of State George Schultz. Before the order could be carried out,
Israel asked for his extradition.)
The Justice Department has filed a motion to have the federal court reaffirm
the original denaturalization order, so that Demjanjuk can at last be deported
to the Ukraine. Demjanjuk has also filed a motion to have his citizenship case
reopened. Currently he is represented by a federal public defender.
Most legal experts believe that Demjanjuk cannot regain his American
citizenship and will ultimately be deported. One historian noted that because
of the collapse of the Soviet Union, deporting Demjanjuk now does not represent
the death sentence it did a decade ago. “Demjanjuk will fare better in an
independent Ukraine than if the deportation order had been implemented a decade
ago. In 1984 Demjanjuk would have landed in the grip of a legal system that
took a dim view of Soviet soldiers going to work for the Nazis.”
Today Demjanjuk is rarely seen in public. He does not venture from his
house, except to attend church. The Seven Hills Police Department have posted
several ‘no trespassing’ signs in his front yard. The blinds on the front
windows are drawn closed day and night.
Until the government deports him, public perception of Demjanjuk is likely
to remain unfettered by the facts of his past. Many who concede Demjanjuk’s
past believe he has been punished enough already. Others who still believe in
his innocence view the loss of seventeen years from his life as a tragedy.
Dershowitz sees it differently.
“The tragedy is not that John Demjanjuk has lost 16 or 17 years of his life.
The tragedy is that he had 20 to 25 good years of life with his family after
the Second World War. His victims didn’t have those years.”
From [email protected] Sun Sep 24 09:42:24 PDT 1995
Article: 6961 of soc.culture.jewish
From: [email protected] (Mark Ira Kaufman)
Subject: Re: Demjanjuk Anniversary
Date: 24 Sep 1995 05:55:00 GMT
Organization: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio (USA)
Message-ID: <[email protected]>