Funny thing is, he was never a Nazi, nor Ivan the Terrible, nor even German. So why now is he standing trial in Munich as accessory to 27,900 Nazi murders? Is this one last blow struck for justice for the Holocaust? Or is it a farce?
Were we not speaking of the Holocaust — Shoah, the Greatest Crime Ever Perpetrated, a Darkness Inexplicable, Pure Evil Incarnate — it would be funny.
Because it is the Holocaust, however, it is hilarious: No greater monster left alive, John Demjanjuk sits where Hitler once sat — in a cell in Munich’s Stadelheim prison — waiting for his lunch, and for justice to be done to him again.
Funny thing: The strongest documentary evidence the OSI did give to Israel, an SS-issued ID card, clearly put Demjanjuk at Sobibor during the same time that Ivan the Terrible was at Treblinka. The three judges and the lawyers on both sides wrestled vainly with this inconvenience, but the Treblinka survivors’ eyewitness testimony — sanctified, consecrated, beyond need of proof by virtue of their hideous suffering and lifelong grief — condemned John Demjanjuk to death.
But the kicker, the real punch line, was yet to come. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Israel, faced with dozens of affidavits from Treblinka guards identifying Ivan Marchenko as Ivan the Terrible, unanimously overturned Demjanjuk’s death sentence, and also unanimously ruled that Israel could not retry him for crimes he may have committed at Sobibor — because he had not been extradited for Sobibor, because no Sobibor survivors could identify him, and because, as chief judge Meir Shamgar wrote, “The complete truth is not the prerogative of the human judge.”
Funny thing, though: The OSI, even after being rebuked by the U. S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for its “reckless disregard for the truth” in its pursuit of Demjanjuk, continued to hound him for lying on his emigration forms in 1952.
Again the OSI stripped him of his restored citizenship, but prosecuting him for war crimes was beyond American jurisprudence. Doing so required a willing helper — another country with an ax to grind.
Poland, home to Sobibor, passed. Ukraine, his land of birth, said ni. Eretz Yisroel had long since had its fill of Demjanjuk.
Which left the Germans, ja?
Ja. Deported in May — in Washington, D. C., OSI officials watched a live television feed of his U. S.-government chartered Gulfstream taking off from Cleveland, still fretting that somehow their tar baby would stay stuck in the States — Demjanjuk was greeted in Munich by TV cameras trailing his ambulance as he was driven from the airport to the prison and headlines hailing the return to German soil of Iwan der Schreckliche — Ivan the Terrible.
“We must remind this old man of what he did,” wrote one newspaper columnist. “We owe it to the victims and ourselves — otherwise we would be a people without a memory.”
Thomas Blatt, one of the few Sobibor survivors, told reporters, “I want to hear his testimony, for the sake of history — that’s more important than any punishment he could receive.”
Funny thing is, though, Blatt has no memory of Demjanjuk; no Sobibor survivor has ever been able to ID him.