It’s been more than 30 years since Demjanjuk was stripped of his US citizenship and deported to Israel, where he stood trial for war crimes.
By HANNAH BROWNPublished: NOVEMBER 6, 2019 22:29Advertisement
Few trials in history have been as emotional, or as complicated, as the fascinating legal saga of Ivan “John” Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian-born American autoworker who was accused of being the notorious Ivan the Terrible, an especially cruel guard at the Treblinka death camp who oversaw the gas chambers.In its new five-part series, The Devil Next Door, Netflix examines the case, with all its twists and turns. It’s been more than 30 years since Demjanjuk was stripped of his US citizenship and deported to Israel, where he stood trial for war crimes. The country was riveted by the trial and the first stage of it yielded heart-rending testimony from Holocaust survivors who described atrocities that were horrific even in the context of the Nazi killing machine.Following the moving eyewitness testimony - some of which was discredited for various reasons, and even contemporaneous eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable - came weeks of very technical wrangling over the authenticity of an identity card supplied by the USSR that showed that Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian prisoner of war, became a concentration camp guard, but which did not place him at Treblinka. As a reporter for United Press International, I covered this phase of the trial, and it was mind numbing to hear experts testifying for eight hours at a stretch over the accuracy of the ink and the paper.In 1988, the three-judge panel convicted Demjanjuk and sentenced him to death. But following a lengthy appeals process, which culminated in the emergence of KGB documents that became available after the fall of the USSR, his conviction was reversed in the early 90s and he returned to America. But the story was far from over.It’s a complicated saga where people took their positions early on and never wavered. The series walks a fine line between the two camps and is quite successful in presenting all points of view. One downside is that the aggressive Israeli defense lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, is the interviewee an inordinate portion of the time. Sheftel, at one time probably the most disliked person in Israel (as he admits with glee), is the kind of arrogant SOB who makes people hate lawyers but who did a stellar job for his client.The trial was the leading news story in Israel for nearly a year and the series reminds us how crazy it got. When Sheftel convinced former judge Dov Eitan to join the defense team, Eitan was blackmailed over his bisexuality and jumped to his death from a Jerusalem building. At his funeral, an angry survivor threw acid in Sheftel’s face, hoping to blind him. While Sheftel suffered some loss of vision, he reminds us in this series that he can still see all the angles. And there were even more surprises in this story than can be described in a short article.If there is something positive to be gleaned from revisiting this complex trial, it’s that in the face of new evidence, the Supreme Court of Israel reversed the conviction of an accused Nazi guard, because the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was Ivan the Terrible. The rule of law was the real victor, maybe the only one in this story. Mrs. Fletcher, a new HBO series, has just started running and based on its first episodes, it’s very promising. It stars Kathryn Hahn, who is always so good in everything — including series such as Transparent and movies like Bad Moms - as a mother facing the empty nest. But it’s also a coming-of-age story about her college-age son and how the world of social media and Internet porn influences both their lives. It runs on YES Edge on Thursdays at 10 p.m. as well as YES VOD and STING TV, HOT HBO on Mondays at 11:30 p.m. and on HOT and NEXT TV and Mondays on Cellcom TV.Another HBO show, the consistently funny and smart Silicon Valley, is back for its final season, Mondays at 11 p.m. on HOT HBO, HOT VOD and NEXT TV, Saturdays at 10 p.m. on YES Comedy, YES VOD and STING TV, and Mondays on Cellcom TV.
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