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?