After 20 years of legal wrangling, the Nazi war criminal may be extradited
Jewish and Israeli organisations are planning to pressure the Ukrainian government to request the extradition of Nazi death-camp guard Ivan John Demjanjuk, who lost his fight against a deportation order from the United States this week.
Demjanjuk will not be extradited from the United States until another country is willing to accept him and put him on trial.
The United States Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear Demjanjuk’s petition against a previous decision to strip him of his American citizenship and have him deported. Demjanjuk was sentenced to death by the Jerusalem District Court in 1988 for war crimes at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. Five years later, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the verdict, ruling that there was insufficient evidence that he was indeed “Ivan the Terrible” of Treblinka.
New documents proved that he had been part of a group of Ukrainians trained as concentration-camp guards, but had been stationed at the Sobibor, Majdanek, Flossenburg and Regensburg camps.
However, Israel did not seek his re-indictment, despite the fact that he could have been prosecuted once again on the new evidence. The Justice Ministry had had enough of the fiasco of the first trial and Demjanjuk had already been in prison for over seven years, the mandatory sentence for Nazi collaborators. Demjanjuk then returned to the US.
His case was taken up by the Office of Special Investigations in the US Justice Department and in 2004, based on the new evidence, a US court ruled that he had served as a camp guard, had lied about his record upon becoming an US citizen in 1958 and should therefore be stripped of his citizenship.
Monday’s Supreme Court decision leaves the 88-year-old Demjanjuk with no recourse to repeal and should open up the path to extradition and a new trial. But currently there are no countries willing to ask for his extradition. The most obvious country would be Ukraine, Demjanjuk’s homeland, but its government has shown no interest in taking a step that risks inflaming nationalistic and antisemitic feelings.
Victor Yushchenko’s government has tried to show the West that Ukraine has put its history of antisemitism behind it. A trial that could reopen old wounds would be the last thing they want.
Germany would be another possibility, but in the past, the federal government has been extremely reluctant to put on trial war criminals not of German nationality. Poland, where most of Demjanjuk’s alleged crimes occurred, has been running an investigation into his past for the last few years, but has uncovered little and is not expected to initiate a trial. Israel could feasibly prosecute Demjanjuk but is extremely unlikely to produce a re-run of the first Demjanjuk trial.
“He is a Ukrainian citizen,” said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem Simon Wiesenthal Centre, “and we will pressure the government there to request his extradition. One thing Israel could do would be to make its own request, forcing Ukraine also to act since Israel has the death penalty for Nazi war criminals and Ukraine has not.”
If no country requests his extradition, Demjanjuk could remain in Ohio, stateless and without social security, but supported by the local Ukrainian community.
Wanted: war criminals still at large
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem has a list of the most wanted Nazi war criminals still at large, in addition to Demjanjuk.
Top of the list is Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s senior operative, responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews from Austria, Greece, France and Slovakia. Last seen in Syria in 2001, if alive he would be aged 95.
Aribert Heim was a doctor at camps including Mauthausen where he killed hundreds by lethal injection. His whereabouts are unknown but there is evidence he is alive.
Sandor Kepiro was a Hungarian gendarme who participated in the murder of over 1,200 civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia. He lives in Hungary, which has not implemented a 1946 sentence against him.
Milivoj Ašner was police chief of Slavonska Požega, Croatia, and took part in the deportation of hundreds of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies. He lives in Austria, which refuses to extradite him to Croatia due to his bad health.
Karoly (Charles) Zentai participated in the roundup and murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944. Hungary asked for his extradition from Australia in 2005; Zentai is currently still in the process of appealing.