US court clears way for Demjanjuk's deportation

Convicted camp guard John Demjanjuk contends he served in Soviet Army, was captured by Germany in 1942 and became POW.

demjanjuk 88 (photo credit: )
demjanjuk 88
(photo credit: )
The US Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of John Demjanjuk, an 88-year-old former SS guard at the Sobibor and Majdanek concentration camps, both near Lublin, Poland, it was announced Monday. But while the US Justice Department noted that the refusal removes the last impediment to deporting Demjanjuk, it is unclear what country would be willing to take him. According to Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel director and chief Nazi-hunter, who was not involved in the case but has followed it closely, there are four options for the deportation: Germany, since Demjanjuk acted under the aegis of German security forces when he served as a guard at death and forced labor camps; Ukraine, since he is himself Ukrainian; Poland, "where he committed his crimes"; and Israel. Israel would likely not take him, says Zuroff. "There is relatively little interest in this topic [in the Israeli government], and Demjanjuk could claim double jeopardy here, since all the stations [where he served], including Sobibor and Treblinka, were in the original indictment." Demjanjuk was extradited from the US to Israel in 1986 and was sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 1993, however, after new evidence surfaced, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that there was reasonable doubt that Demjanjuk was "Ivan the Terrible," and he returned to the US, where the Justice Department continued efforts to revoke his citizenship on the grounds that he had served as a guard at death camps. In 2002, an immigration judge ruled that World War II-era documents proved Demjanjuk was a Nazi guard at various camps, and in January of this year, a three-judge panel of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, rejected Demjanjuk's challenge to the deportation order. According to Zuroff, Germany is also an unlikely target for deportation, since Germany has historically only accepted extradited former Nazis who were themselves German or ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. "We're going to try to convince the Ukrainians to take him," said Zuroff, "but there's no guarantee of success. They expressed a willingness to take him in the early 1990s, but it remains to be seen if they'll do it now." Zuroff noted that this situation is not unique. "There are a handful of people ordered deported from the US that the Americans have not found a [target country] for the deportation. Some have passed away before they could be deported." Even so, the Nazi-hunter says, "he's absolutely deportable, and this only happened because of the perseverance and persistence of the [Justice Department's] Office of Special Investigations," the US government office that has pursued Nazi war criminals on American soil since its founding in 1979. Demjanjuk contends that he served in the Soviet army and was captured by Germany in 1942.