Magazine article Insight on the News

Smears Linger despite Ruling for Demjanjuk in Israeli Court

Magazine article Insight on the News

Smears Linger despite Ruling for Demjanjuk in Israeli Court

Article excerpt

The first response of B'nai B'rith spokesman Dan Mariaschin to the Israeli Supreme Court's acquittal in July of John Demjanjuk was to declare how the ruling just proves what a swell democracy Israel is after all. Well, maybe it does prove that Certainly the Israeli ruling offered more justice and courage than anything Demjanjuk accused in the U.S. of being a Nazi war criminal and stripped of his citizenship 12 years ago, received in this country.

But the second thought that leapt to Mariaschin's mind was that acquittal didn't really matter anyway Demjanjuk, accused of being Ivan the Terrible, "certainly was not |Ivan the Angel' either," Mariaschin announced. "This decision by no means exonerates Demjanjuk of all crimes." Well, maybe not, but it sure as heck raises some questions about Demjanjuk's enemies. Even as the acquitted man packed his bags for freedom, those enemies became fixated on trying him yet again on yet another charge.

Five concentration camp survivors swore in an Israeli court that Demjanjuk was indeed Ivan, the sadist who killed and tortured Jewish prisoners at Treblinka. It was largely on those eyewitness identifications that he was convicted in Israel in 1988 and sentenced to death. But evidence then accumulated that he wasn't Ivan. Documents from long-closed Soviet archives yielded statements signed by dozens of former Treblinka guards that the real Ivan was someone else and was last seen in Yugoslavia in 1944. If that's true, Demjanjuk couldn't be Ivan, and the eyewitness survivors could not have told the truth.

Maybe they deliberately lied, or maybe their memories are so haunted and their minds so obsessed with vengeance that their judgment is warped. In either case, their identifications were in the end sufficiently dubious that no conviction could rest on them. That fact alone ought to raise serious questions about the reliability of other "eyewitness" accounts of that time.

Then there is the conduct of Demjanjuk's major enemy in this country, the Office of Special Investigations, which set the wheels of injustice moving against him in 1977. Last month, federal Judge Thomas Wiseman found that the OSI had failed miserably to meet even minimal standards of professional conduct in the Demjanjuk case. The OSI blinded itself to the possibility of his innocence, and the only evidence it chose to consider was what pointed to his guilt. …

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