John Demjanjuk Sentenced to Death in Israeli Court

After his conviction the prior week, John Demjanjuk is sentenced to death in an Israeli court for war crimes committed as a guard in the Treblinka death camp during World War II. John Demjanjuk was accused of being "Ivan the Terrible," a gas chamber operator in Treblinka where 870,000 Jews were murdered.

Judge Zvi Tal says during sentencing:

"The crimes he committed cannot be forgiven either in the letter of the law or in the hearts of men. What punishment must be given this Ivan the Terrible? A man who killed both tens of thousands and individuals, who tortured and treated sadistically those taken to death in their last hour, what is his sentence?

A thousand deaths cannot compensate for what happened, but at least we have judged one of the angels of death. The human hand is unable to measure a punishment equal to the charges.

We know very well how pale and ordinary this death sentence will be compared to the millions of bizarre deaths that he decreed on his victims. Just as there is no name for what he has done, so their is no punishment in the rules of man that is severe enough for this man's guilt.

He did not initiate the extermination, or order the extermination of millions. But he served as a main executioner, who, with his own hands, murdered thousands and tortured, humiliated, treated cruelly and chased unfortunate people with an eager soul."

John Demjanjuk will appeal the guilty verdict by arguing that there were significant problems with the prosecution's evidence. First, his defense lawyers argue that the material provided by the Soviets has been forged. Second, they point out that exculpating testimony was not presented by the government as it should have been.

Lawrence Douglas writes in The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust that:

"a slow but steady stream of information began to emerge from the collapsing Soviet Union suggesting precisely what the trial court had dismissed as far-fetched: that, in fact, there had been two Ukrainian Ivans, one at Sobibòr and one at Treblinka, who bore a small but not entirely negligible resemblance to one another.

According to this material, Ivan the Terrible had been one Ivan Marchenko, a guard who, as the German war effort collapsed, had last been seen serving with Yugoslavian partisans. Photographs of Marchenko showed a man with an astonishingly brutal face, yet one with Demjanjuk's protruding ears, round cheeks, and high hairline.

While none of this information entirely exculpated Demjanjuk—on the contrary, it only strengthened the conviction that he had served at Sobibòr—it did cast doubt on whether Israeli justice was about to execute the right man as Ivan the Terrible.

Worse, it suggested that much of this information had been available to the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations at the time of the Jerusalem trial, but had not, for whatever reasons, been passed on to the Israelis."

In 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court will overturn the guilty verdict, concluding that while John Demjanjuk likely participated in the "extermination process" as a concentration camp guard, the government isn't able to prove that he was a particular guard who committed particular crimes. Being present while war crimes are being committed and playing some sort of role is not sufficient to be convicted and executed by the Israeli justice system.


German Court frees Demjanjuk after finding him guilty

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