John Demjanjuk, 88 has managed to escape his alleged Nazi past for over 60 years. He has lived a quiet life in suburban Cleveland fighting United States Justice Department efforts to deport him. He has beaten an Israeli death sentence. He had his United States citizenship revoked in 1981, restored in 1998 and then revoked again in 2002 based on Justice Department evidence showing he concealed his service at Sobibor and other Nazi-run death and forced labor camps. A movie has been made loosely based on his saga.
In the non-Hollywood real world, Germany has issued a warrant for Demjanjuk’s arrest. German prosecutors claim Demjanjuk was an accessory to some 29,000 deaths during World War II as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Demjanjuk has now temporarily beaten back a final deportation order to Germany(an immigration judge ruled in 2005 he could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine) with six U.S. Customs agents standing right on his door step of his suburban Cleveland home, wheel chair in hand(literally) with a wheel chair accessible van, ready to escort him to the airport in Cleveland for a forced and unwanted journey into his Nazi past. Demjanjuk claims that he is unable to travel due to his poor health and that any deportation under such circumstances would constitute cruel would amount to torture.
The Demjanjuk citizenship and deportation odyssey began in Israel. He was originally sentenced to death in Israel, convicted of being the Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible”. The Israeli Supreme Court later overturned the conviction, saying another man was probably “Ivan,” a sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp where 870,000 people died. He then returned to the United States and had his citizenship restored.
Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship again in 2002, with a judge ruled that he had worked as a guard at other death camps. Because no country was willing to take him and it is unconstitutional to incarcerate him, he as been able to live quietly in his Cleveland home.
As to the stripping of his citizenship and aggressive deportation stance taken by the Justice Department, Edward Nishnic, a spokesman for Demjanjuk’s family once stated:
“This is taking it to the ridiculous……. It’s another form of harassment against a very and very frail man.”
Nishnic said the family was relieved the stay was granted.
“We’re delighted. We’re prepared to make our arguments with the 6th Circuit, and it’s just a shame that Mr. Demjanjuk had to go through the hell that he went through once again this morning,”
His wife Vera had previously old told a German newspaper:
“His brain is not functioning correctly. One day he recognizes everything, the next day he has forgotten it all. He goes to the doctor for injections once a week, otherwise he wouldn’t be around much longer.”
The U.S. attorney general’s office has filed a response to Demjanjuk’s 6th Circuit motions, saying the court does not have the authority to rule on a previous denial for a stay by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals.
“Because there is no reviewable final order of removal, this court lacks jurisdiction,” the government said. “Simply put, this court does not have the statutory authority to entertain his request and related motion.”
In addition to his cruel and unusual argument, Demjanjuk has consistently maintained that he is a victim of mistaken identity and wrongly targeted in a two decade vendetta by the United States Justice Department.
It is notable that one of the claims that was upheld in restoring his citizenship in 1998 was that the Justice Department withheld evidence. This sounds disturbingly similar to current allegations of misconduct within the Justice Department in several ongoing cases, the most notable being former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. These current allegations may work in his favor in the background if there is any benefit of doubt to be given him by the 6th Circuit.
Should John Demjanjuk be deported to Germany to face trial for his crimes? I say yes. If there is to be mercy based on age and health for Mr. Demjanjuk, it is for a German court and the citizens of the nation where he stands accused to decide. There is a valid extradition order. There is a valid deportation order. There is a treaty in place. That is how it works. It is time for John Demjanjuk to go home and face his past.
You can read an actual pleading from the case that contains an excellent summary of the facts and some of Demjanjuk’s arguments here.
I will also post all ongoing pleadings in the case here as they are made available. Be sure to also take the poll on my site.
** Order Of Stay Issued By The Sixth Circuit Court Of Appeal(added 4-16-09)