Sunday, 15 May 2011

John Demjanjuk

So John Demjanjuk has been found guilty of being a guard at Sobibor camp in Poland during World War II.

I must admit that this case makes me very uneasy. If he is guilty then he should rot in the lowest layers of hell. However, the way Demjanjuk has been prosecuted - and some may say persecuted - makes me extremely nervous.

For this is not the first time that he has been prosecuted. In 1988 he was convicted in Israel of being 'Ivan the Terrible', the hideous camp guard at Treblinka whose moniker scarcely did his crimes justice. Demjanjuk spent seven years in jail, five of which were on death row, and was only set free when his lawyers proved it was a case of mistaken identity. It was a hideous miscarriage of justice, especially as the evidence of his innocence was known (but not revealed) by American authorities before he was extradited to Israel.

He nearly went to his death.

Remember that hundred if not thousands of Germans were essentially let off terrible crimes during the chaos at the end of the war. (Sadly the same can be said of Japanese and, in more than a few cases, Allied troops). Their leaders and the worst offenders were justly prosecuted, but many others were not. Then there is the question of how liable an individual soldier is. How guilty were the East German border guards in Berlin when they shot at people trying to escape to the west? Will they similarly be prosecuted in another forty years' time?

As one Nazi expert said: "(Demjanjuk is)... the littlest of the little fishes".

As I see it, there are two main options:

  • He was a guard at the camp, but did not worse than any of his colleagues who were not tried (and indeed, many far more senior and liable camp commanders were acquitted after the war).
  • He was not a camp guard, and is guilty only of living longer than his compatriots, and of being the victim of a witch-hunt.

It is exceptionally hard to get justice after so many years; witnesses die, documents get lost and memories fade. Despite this it is clear that the evidence against Demjanjuk was incredibly thin. Add his history, and the mistaken belief that he was Ivan the Terrible (a belief that led to him receiving the death penalty), and it looks all too much like a witch hunt, the German judicial system's last throw of the dice to get justice for the millions who died in the camps.

But it probably helps the Germans that, as a Ukranian, Demjanjuk is a foreigner.

Terrible, hideous things happened in those camps. This prosecution does nothing to serve the cause of justice, and only the hideousness of revenge.

It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

1 comment:

sol said...

I think he should rot in hell along with all the rest of his pukes and anyone that sides with his kind should as well!