09 March 2009

War Crimes

Ivan Demjanjuk might soon be appearing in a courtroom in Munich charged with war crimes. Demjanjuk, originally from The Ukraine, was a Red Army soldier captured by the Germans in 1942 who then chose to ally himself with his captors. After the war Demjanjuk settled in Germany, but left in 1951 and moved to the US.

In 1983 the Israeli' requested his extradition believing him to be a former guard at the Treblinka extermination camp known to the inmates as 'Ivan the Terrible'. He was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to death but his conviction was overturned on appeal in 1993. The Israeli Supreme Court did not doubt that Demjanjuk has been a concentration camp guard but ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove that he was 'Ivan the Terrible'.

Demjanjuk was then returned to the US by the Israelis. His US citizenship, which he had lost some years before his extradition, was restored. The US Justice Department appealed against this on the grounds that Demjanjuk had indeed been a concentration camp guard, even if not the one believed by the Israeli prosecutors. The court agreed and removed his citizenship once more. Demjanjuk's final appeal against the decision was rejected by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeal in 2004. As a stateless person Demjanjuk was liable to deportation if a country could be found willing to take him. However, neither Ukraine not Poland - where his alleged crimes were perpetrated were willing either to take or to put him on trial.

Meanwhile German investigators at the Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen
zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen
(that's the Central Office of the State Justice Administration for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes to you and me) had been looking into Demjanjuk and had come up with new evidence suggesting that Demjanjuk had been a guard in the Sobibor extermination camp in 1943.

Since Demjanjuk's last place of residence before moving to the US had been the town of Feldafing just south of Munich, the Zentralle Stelle believed that the Munich prosecutor's office could claim jurisdiction and bring charges against Demjanjuk, specifically that he participated in the murder of 29,000 Jews - including 1,900 who were German citizens - at Sobibor.

As far as I understand (and German readers can corect me if I have got this wrong) the Munich prosecutor's office declined to take action on the grounds that they did not believe that they had jurisdiction. However, in December of last year Federal Court of Justice confirmed that they did have jurisdiction.

All that is required now for Demjanjuk to be brought to Munich is some paperwork. Yet the authorities in Munich have been proceeding slowly. I can understand their caution.

A second acquittal would not look good - the prosecutors need to be very confident in their evidence before going ahead. Moreover, if Demjanjuk were acquitted I would assume that since he would have been deported rather than extradited and since he is no longer a US citizen the Germans would be stuck with him, either having to look after him until he dies or find another country willing to take him - which seems unlikely.

I'm sure the German authorities are also concerned about Demjanjuk's age and state of health. He is 88 years old and even if he is nowhere near as feeble as his lawyer and family are trying to argue he's still an old man. His death in custody while on trial is not something the authorities would want to have to deal with.

1 comment:

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms2.blogspot.com/2009/03/re-war-crimes.html