Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is This Justice?

by Joyce

I've been following the case of John Demjanjuk off and on for the past month or so. For those who don't know, Demjanjuk was deported to Germany this week after the US Supreme Court refused his family's request to block his deportation. He is to be tried as an accessory to the murders of 29,000 Jews and other prisoners at the Sobibor concentration camp during World War II.

Demjanjuk was born in the Ukraine and for years he has insisted that he was a prisoner of war and was never a camp guard. He emigrated to the US in 1951 and eventually settled in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio where he was employed as an auto worker. Efforts to prosecute Demjanjuk first began in 1977. In 1986, he was deported to Israel where he was convicted of being "Ivan the Terrible," a guard at Treblinka. His conviction was overturned in 1993 when someone else was identified as Ivan.

After he was identified as being a guard at Sobibor, he was again ordered to be deported, and last month Germany stated he would be tried for being an accessory to the deaths of 29,000 people.

When I first heard about the deportation and saw the photos and video of immigration agents removing him from his home in a wheelchair, part of me thought, what's the point? The man is 89 years old, in very poor health, and most likely won't be alive for many more years. Even if he was a guard at Sobibor, as a Ukrainian, how much choice could he have had? Was it likely that he would have been executed too?

The other part of me wants to see justice done, even sixty-five years later. And the evidence does seem to be against him. There are Nazi-era documents, including photographs that appear to identify Demjanjuk as a Nazi guard. One of the founders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Marvin Hier, feels that he should be punished. He also states that Demjanjuk will most likely be the last person to stand trial for Nazi war crimes.

So, what do you think? Should Demjanjuk be tried for sending 29,000 people to their deaths in the gas chamber? Or at 89 years old, should he be left alone to live out the remainder of his days? Perhaps a trial is the best way to once and for all, get to the truth. It may finally answer the question: Was he or wasn't he?


PatRemick said...

A trial would answer so many questions. I don't think there should be any statute of limitations on atrocities.

Jennie Bentley said...

Tough call. Like you, there's part of me that thinks the truth needs to come out, and justice needs to be served, even after this many years. The other part of me thinks that if the guy is 89, in a wheelchair, and has obviously lived a fairly blameless life since the war, what's the point? Plus, I'm not sure we can be sure we're getting the truth now. If the guy says he didn't do it, is there anyone who can say differently? People's appearances change over sixty-five years, so the photos could be of someone else. Even someone who was there, who saw him in 1943, could be mistaken this many years later. It's difficult to imagine they'll be able to prove this case without a reasonable doubt, but maybe that terminology doesn't enter into this trial. It'll be interesting to see what happens, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it all depend on whose ox is being gored? For instance, Saddam Hussein was summarily executed for crimes of war, but Dick Cheney and George Bush are not only walking around free, but also getting a helluva nice pension from the US taxpayers, despite admitting that they authorized torture. And there is a much greater preponderance of evidence against them than there is against Demanjuk.

ALL evil should be punished, but we do need to make sure we're punishing the right person, and not just making a show of it for the wrong reasons.

Dana King said...

To say he should not be punished for such crimes now is to reward anyone who avoids prosecution for such things long enough to become old and infirm. 29,000 people were denied that opportunity. Deporting him sends the message that those responsible for such acts should at the very least spend their lives looking over their shoulders.

lisa curry said...

Dana, good answer. I agree with you.

queenofmean said...

It is a tough question. No matter how much time has passed (or how old or infirmed the individual is), no one should get away with committing such crimes. Punishment is deserved.
At the same time, can they be sure that this is the man? Is the evidence solid enough? The only thing worse than a guilty man going free is an innocent man being punished.