Monday, May 16, 2011

Miscarriage of Justice

Last week John Demjanjuk was found guilty of being an accessory to the deaths of 27,900 jews during the Holocaust. He was railroaded.

Demjanjuk's early life is not in dispute. He was born and raised in the Ukraine during a period when Stalin killed tens of millions of Ukrainians through starvation. Demjanjuk survived and was conscripted into the Soviet Army during WWII. He was eventually captured and placed in a Nazi POW camp.

Details after that are in dispute until he immigrated to Cleveland in the 1950s where he lived a quiet life until investigators declared that he was a notorious war criminal, Ivan the Terrible. He was deported to Israel, put on trial, and sentenced to death. The trouble is that there was a lot of evidence showing that he was innocent. On appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court freed him.

In a fit of pique, the original investigators seem to have decided that he should pay for something so he was sent to Germany to be tried for being a guard at a completely different concentration camp. This was mainly based on an ID card.

It recently turned out that there were doubts about the ID card's authenticity going back years but the FBI never made this information available to Demjanjuk's defense. The Soviet KGB might have wanted to get revenge on someone they saw as a defector to the US and forged the card. So there is reasonable doubt. This should have been presented during his trial.

But, even if you think that the card is genuine, the trial is a miscarriage of justice for many reasons. Germans treated their Russian POWs almost as badly as they treated the Jews. Most of them starved to death. If Demjanjuk did take a job as a guard it was likely to keep from starving.

The prosecution insists that conditions for the POWs had improved by that point and Demjanjuk knew what he would be doing. Even if that was true, he was the lowest level of guard. No one from that level has ever been charged before. They were too powerless to be considered accomplices.

And if all of that wasn't enough, you have to consider the time that he has already served in Germany and on death row in Israel. He has already spent twice as much time in prison as officers who were directly responsible for atrocities.

The truth is that too many Germans involved in the trial are using this old man to make a statement that they have changed and they are not the Germans of the 1930s and 1940s. The fact that the man they are using to make this point isn't even German and was never a Nazi is irrelevant. Most of the real Nazis died a long time ago so Demjanjuk has become a proxy for them.

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