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Demjanjuk Convicted, Sentenced, and Set Free

Has justice been done to the last Nazi genocidaire?

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John Demjanjuk (C) today.(Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

John Demjanjuk’s conviction and sentencing to five years’ imprisonment today in Munich, Germany, may finally represent both the end of the remarkable Demjanjuk story and, as the Simon Wiesenthal Center suggested, the conclusion of holding to account those directly responsible for the Holocaust—after all, at 91, Demjanjuk is a spring chicken compared to most of those who were responsible for the deaths of the six million. Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born Cleveland autoworker who during World War Two allegedly worked as a guard at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp, has been convicted before: In the late ‘80s, in fact, he was accused of being one guard at Treblinka known as “Ivan the Terrible,” a horror show of a human being even by the standards of Nazi camp enforcers; in Israel, he was convicted of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews at Treblinka (the only other person ever tried by Israel for Holocaust-related crimes was Adolf Eichmann) and sentenced to death; in 1993, the Israeli High Court overturned his conviction when new evidence (which the Americans actually had all along) came to light proving that Demjanjuk was not at Treblinka and therefore could not have been Ivan. Two years ago, he was arrested again, in Cleveland, and shipped to Germany, there to stand trial for alleged actions at Sobibor.

And yet, Demjanjuk is not in jail—he was freed pending appeal, a process expected to take something like a year. How you feel about this probably depends on how felt about trying a wheelchair-bound 91-year-old in the first place. In Tablet Magazine in November 2009, Michael C. Moynihan argued this was the right thing to do; around the same time, in Esquire Scott Raab was not so sure; already, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has argued that failure to imprison him “is an insult to his victims and to the survivors, that after all of this they may see John Demjanjuk strolling in the park in Germany for having been complicit in the mass murder over 28,000;” at the very least, the Center’s Rabbi Martin Hier added, he could have been placed under house arrest. On the one hand, Demjanjuk is no longer even about “never forgetting;” it is about punishing an individual offender, who in fact served roughly five years on Israeli death row before he was freed. On the other hand, the thousands and thousands of Demjanjuk’s victims surely would have preferred to have made it to 91.

Demjanjuk Convicted for Role in Nazi Death Camp [NYT]
Related: Still Terrible [Tablet Magazine]
The Eichmann Trial [Nextbook Press]
John Demjanjuk: The Last Nazi [Esquire]

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As long as he’s not getting a CUNY degree.

minda says:

what would be just?

Infinity is unquantifiable

2000

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Demjanjuk Convicted, Sentenced, and Set Free

Has justice been done to the last Nazi genocidaire?

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