Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Esquire Magazine Glorifies Accused SS Guard John Demjanjuk

Scott Raab's November 2009 Esquire article titled "The Last Nazi" paints a sympathetic portrait of John Demjanjuk, the Cleveland autoworker who has been accused of being an SS guard. Demjanjuk was sentenced to death by Israel in 1988 but the Israel Supreme Court overturned that conviction on a technicality in 1993; Demjanjuk had been charged with being Treblinka's infamous "Ivan the Terrible" but evidence released from Soviet archives after Demjanjuk's conviction raised the possibility that Demjanjuk was, as Alan Dershowitz wrote in an August 14, 1993 Jerusalem Post International Edition article, "Ivan the Very Bad of Sobibor." Dershowitz also pointed out that the Israel Supreme Court bent over backwards to be fair to Demjanjuk, because most courts have "unreasonably rigid rules about when newly discovered evidence can be introduced to reverse a guilty verdict, even in a death penalty case." While the Israeli trial may not have proven that Demjanjuk was "Ivan the Terrible," it demonstrated that Demjanjuk had in fact served as an SS guard at the Sobibor death camp--and on that basis alone the Israeli Supreme Court certainly would have been justified in upholding Demjanjuk's death sentence. Indeed, an August 7, 1993 JPIE article by Evelyn Gordon bore the title, "The judges' ruling was a triumph of legal principle but was justice done?" Gordon quoted Mordechai Kremnitzer, dean of the Hebrew University Law School: "The Supreme Court stretched to the maximum these liberal principles of proper defense for criminals." Kremnitzer added that Demjanjunk "got off the hook by a distance that could be measured perhaps in millimeters" and although Kremnitzer refused to explicitly condemn the Supreme Court's ruling he concluded, "But if the court had decided to convict him--at least on the Trawnicki document, which was a major part of the case--I would have been ready to defend the decision."

Raab's article disgusted me so much that I sent this letter to Esquire's editors:

Scott Raab attempted to do justice both to the horrors of the Holocaust and to the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" but his attempt to create sympathy for John Demjanjuk is most unfortunate because it is not grounded in the facts of the case. Joshua Muravchik authored the definitive piece about the Demjanjuk case ("Demjanjuk: A Summing Up," published in the April 1997 issue of Commentary).

Raab suggested that it is "funny" that the same evidence that first was used to accuse Demjanjuk of being an SS guard at Treblinka is now being used to accuse Demjanjuk of being an SS guard at Sobibor--but Demjanjuk's posting to Sobibor is dated March 27, 1943 and Muravchik noted "Since the vast bulk of the killing at Treblinka was accomplished between July 1942 and January 1943, Demjanjuk could have earned his notoriety as Ivan the Terrible there and then been transferred to Sobibor in March. The two camps were only 100 miles apart and Wachmanner were often transferred."

Raab completely ignored the numerous contradictions--not to mention outright lies--in Demjanjuk's various accounts of his wartime activities, including the fact that Demjanjuk has admitted that he lied on his immigration application to the United States. Demjanjuk also did not have a satisfactory explanation for the scar on his left arm in the exact place where Waffen SS members received tattoos; Demjanjuk admitted to being tattooed there and he admitted to gouging out the tattoo but denied that it had been an SS tattoo.

Murachik declared, "None of the courts that have heard Demjanjuk's case, in America or in Israel, has found him credible on his wartime experience. As Judge Thomas Wiseman, Jr., the Special Master appointed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, stated in his report: 'Mr. Demjanjuk's alibi was so incredible as to legitimately raise the suspicions of his prosecutors that he lied about everything.'"

It is irresponsible for Raab to not have made it quite clear that Demjanjuk has not only contradicted himself during his various court testimonies but at times Demjanjuk has even contradicted the evidence supplied by his own lawyers! Demjanjuk has never provided a credible, consistent account of his wartime activities. Raab paints an image of a sickly, dying Demjanjuk but the reality is that Demjanjuk lied when he was a young man trying to gain entry to the United States and Demjanjuk lied when he was a middle aged man on trial for being an SS guard.

The Israeli Supreme Court ultimately set Demjanjuk free on a procedural technicality and declined to put him on trial again despite the very strong evidence that he did in fact serve as an SS guard in Sobibor, so for Raab to try to make Demjanjuk a sympathetic figure is reprehensible. Murachik concluded, "In short, the evidence that Demjanjuk served as a Wachmann at Trawnicki, Sobibor and Flossenburg was and remains quite persuasive. In addition to the identity card, at least one other document places him at Sobibor and at least four put him at Trawnicki, while at least three put him at Flossenburg after Sobibor. All of these documents are mutually consistent and all bear Demjanjuk's tell-tale identification number...Is John Demjanjuk Ivan the Terrible? We may never know. If he is not, then justice of a sort has been done through his acquittal by the Israel Supreme Court. But that acquittal hardly makes him 'an innocent victim,' as his defenders would have it, much less a martyr. Far from it. That he served the SS and assisted in unspeakable crimes against humanity--of that, there can be no doubt."

Raab obviously spent quite a bit of time interviewing various Demjanjuk family members/sympathizers--but did he ever take the time to review the court proceedings and the actual evidence of the case? Raab's article will surely give great comfort to Nazi sympathizers and Holocaust deniers but it hardly did justice to this case or to the victims of the Holocaust.

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