The nazi guard is now facing the highest court
BERLIN (AP) - John Demjanjuk was convicted of being a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor death camp, but his 35-year fight on three continents to clear his name - a legal battle that had not yet ended when he died Saturday at age 91 - made him one of the best-known faces of Nazi prosecutions.
The conviction of the retired Ohio autoworker in a Munich court in May on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, which was still being appealed, broke new legal ground in Germany as the first time someone was convicted solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.
It has opened the floodgates to hundreds of new investigations in Germany, though his death serves as a reminder that time is running out for prosecutors.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk steadfastly maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else - first wounded as a Soviet soldier fighting German forces, then captured and held as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions.
And he is probably best known as someone he was not: the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp. That was the first accusation against him, which led to him being extradited from the U.S. to Israel in the 1980s. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death - only to have the Israeli Supreme Court unanimously overturn the verdict and return him to the U.S. after it received evidence that another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard.
"He has become at least one of the faces" of the Holocaust, Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
"His case illustrates the principle that whenever even a very low-ranking Nazi criminal can be found and convicted, the importance is not in the sentence, not in the amount of time such a person may have to sit in jail ... the important thing is to bring the crime to the attention of the general public."
Yes, and don't buy into what the AP is reporting here at face value: that overturning of his initial conviction was an embarrassingly bad travesty of justice. I suppose one could argue that Bauer has a point when he says that the important thing is that Demjanjuk's horrific career - no matter how "low-ranking" his position - was brought to public attention, and he got the shaming he justly deserved. If only the same could be said for convictions and imprisonment. Now, however, he can rot in hell.
Labels: anti-semitism, germany, Israel, United States