Nazi military passport of John Demjanjuk, accused of being

a prison guard at the concentration camp at Sobibor, Poland.



Financial Times Deutschland, Germany

Trial of Alleged Nazi Guard Demjanjuk a Chance for German 'Redemption'


"The German state came close to losing a great opportunity: to come to terms with injustice, to establish guilt and to punish. An opportunity for truth. A chance to redeem itself. The fact that the Munich public prosecutor's office took this opportunity after all these years deserves unqualified praise."


By Kathrin Werner


Translated By Ulf Behncke


July 15, 2009


Germany - Financial Times Deutschland - Original Article (German)

John Demjanjuk in Cleveland in 2005: The naturalized American is breaking legal ground in Germany. Rarely has someone so low in the Nazi pecking order been prosecuted in a German Court.


BBC NEWS VIDEO: John Demjanjuk, alleged Nazi war criminal, charged with being an accessory to mass murder, July 13, 00:01:31RealVideo

The trial of alleged concentration camp warden John Demjanjuk is an opportunity for the German state. It can show its citizens that it's able to come to grips with even historic injustices.


The crimes date back more than 65 years and the offender is close to 90: The Munich public prosecutorís office has finally charged alleged concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk with being an ďaccomplice to murderĒ in 27,900 cases. It will be one of the last great Nazi trials.


It was almost too late. The questions of whether and how Holocaust criminals like Demjanjuk should be sentenced threatened to take care of themselves, given the advanced age of the accused. Thus the German state came close to losing a great opportunity: to come to terms with injustice, to establish guilt and to punish. An opportunity for truth. A chance to redeem itself.


The fact that the Munich public prosecutor's office took this opportunity after all these years deserves unqualified praise. It ends the appalling ďdraw-a-line argumentĒ - leave in peace an old man who for decades has been an honest citizen of the U.S. state of Ohio. Draw a line; itís been too long. But murder and complicity to murder don't fall under the statute of limitations. And there's no age limit for the punishment of crimes.


Some complain that Demjanjuk is about to be punished for a crime that others have gotten away with. The native Ukrainian is the first concentration camp guard in a German court who wasn't born in Germany. Up to now, the judiciary has avoided taking on cases like this. But just because the courts in the post-war era were slow on the uptake, is by no means a reason to continue making the same mistake now. There is no right to an equality of injustice.


Under German law, there is no deadline for prosecuting murder. That may sound formalistic - especially since it's unlikely that Demjanjuk will actual serve out his sentence. He's been declared fit to stand trial, but that doesn't mean he's fit enough to go to prison. But serving a prison sentence isnít the decisive issue. Itís the verdict itself that counts. Six decades after the atrocities of the Nazis, a sentence still serves a purpose.††



A look inside the Sobibor death camp with one of its few

remaining survivors, Jules Schelvis.



Most of the reasons for punishing Demjanjuk no longer apply: social rehabilitation canít be the purpose, since he has already been rehabilitated. He's no longer a danger to anyone. There's no question of deterring other potential mass murderers. Which only leaves revenge - and considering the cruelty Demjanjuk is accused of, this is a very human need. But revenge is about morality and not justice - and morality has no place in a criminal proceeding.


The true purpose of the indictment is altogether different: The state needs to prove to its citizens that laws are enforced and just penalties meted out. This is a direct message to the people. For this, there is no need for Demjanjuk to spend many years in prison. The verdict itself is important, as it means that citizens can be confidence that the state is making an effort to impose justice - and to make sure that the truth comes to light.


In Demjanjuk's case, that will take a lot of effort. To begin with, there are great difficulties finding reliable evidence: most witnesses are dead and the accused himself is expected to remain silent. The statements of deceased witnesses contradict one another and many of the documents that supposedly prove his guilt have been disputed as inauthentic. Proving his guilt in individual cases is all but impossible. Prosecutors must at least prove that he was a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp. Anyone deployed at the camp was, according to historic research, part of the machinery of death - and is therefore guilty of complicity to murder. But even proving this will be difficult.



Inmates at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland: At

least a quarter million people were murdered there.


Another obstacle to convicting Demjanjuk is the predicament that the young man would have found himself in back then. After all, it was the Nazis and the particular circumstances at the time that turned him into the perpetrator he became. If it hadnít been for being trained as a concentration camp guard in Trawniki, he may well have died of starvation, froze to death or fallen victim to one of the many diseases that were so rife in the camp he was then imprisoned in.


In addition, his lawyers will invoke putative duress. They'll argue that Demjanjuk killed out of fear that the Germans would kill him if he refused to obey their commands. However, Demjanjuk could have fled like others in Trawniki. And if he had been caught, it's unlikely that the Nazis would have killed him. Demjanjuk would have known: He once escaped briefly and, upon his return, was punished comparatively mildly with only a few blows from a stick.


It wonít be easy to convict Demjanjuk. His deeds and motives, his dealings with criminals under duress - all of these the court will have to resolve. But the victims and their relatives are entitled to a verdict. And citizens are entitled to see the state go out of its way to deliver justice. Because only the attempt to uncover the truth at all costs makes a state one of law. And truth doesn't fall under the statute of limitations.



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US July 19, 10:09pm]