Demjanjuk: A powerful verdict, bitterly undermined

Comment: One can only hope that the appeal will be expedited so that the Nazi war criminal can serve his fully justified prison sentence.

May 13, 2011 01:06
2 minute read.
Nazi guard John Demjanjuk.

John Demjanjuk 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

Dedicated to the memory of Berta (Betty) David z"l, who was deported to Sobibor from Holland on July 23, 1943, and was murdered in the camp, and to the grandmother of my neighbor Yehuda David.

The conviction in Munich of Ivan Demjanjuk brings to a successful end one of the longest and most difficult cases of a Nazi war criminal.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

It started in the United States, to which Demjanjuk emigrated from occupied Germany after World War II; continued in Israel, to which he was extradited as “Ivan the Terrible,” who ran the gas chambers in the Treblinka death camp; returned to the States after his expulsion from Israel following the discovery of testimony which raised reasonable doubt about his identity; and finally concluded successfully in Germany, where his identity as an armed SS Wachmann (guard) at the Sobibor death camp was confirmed by a German court.

In that respect, the legal process reflects the different efforts being made to bring Nazi war criminals to trial in different countries. Thus Demjanjuk was tried for immigration and naturalization violations in the United States, where Holocaust perpetrators cannot be tried for the crimes they committed during the Shoah, but on criminal charges in Israel and Germany, as is the case in the rest of the world.

There is no question that Thursday’s verdict sends a very powerful message that it is still possible today to hold Nazi war criminals accountable. Given the commonly held perceptions that either no Nazi war criminals are still alive or that all those alive are doddering old men about to die – a perception which Demjanjuk tried very hard to foster during the course of his trial – the verdict rings loud and clear.

The issue is not the admittedly advanced age of the defendants, but their physical and mental health. In that respect, I try to respond to those who question the sagacity of such trials that they should look at the defendants and not be fooled by their attempts to solicit sympathy by appearing as frail and helpless as possible. On the contrary, they should think of them as those who, at the height of their physical strength and prowess, invested all their energy in the mass murder of innocent civilians.

Thus, empathy for the perpetrators is really what I refer to as the “Misplaced Sympathy Syndrome” – the individuals in question are the last people on earth who deserve any empathy, since they had no mercy whatsoever for their helpless victims.

In this context, the subsequent decision of the court to release Demjanjuk, pending his appeal and the ratification of his sentence was, in my opinion, particularly inappropriate. He was convicted for his role as an accessory to the murder of approximately 30,000 Jews, not for some inconsequential or relatively harmless offense, and the release cast a stain on the impact of the verdict and its symbolic significance.

One can only hope that the appeal will be expedited so that Demjanjuk can serve his fully justified prison sentence.

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office. His most recent book is Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Palgrave/Macmillan).

Related Content

August 13, 2018
Beit Berl