NEW YORK (Feb. 27)
United States authorities are scheduled to put accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk on board El Al Airlines flight #004 leaving Thursday night from Kennedy International Airport for Israel, where he will stand trial for his war-time activities.
The 65-year-old retired Cleveland auto worker was held Thursday in an undisclosed location in lower Manhattan after being transferred here from a federal prison facility in Springfield, Missouri. The 10-hour non-stop flight to Tel Aviv is scheduled to depart at 6 p.m.
The Supreme Court last Monday cleared the way for DEMJANJUK’S extradition to Israel, under terms of a 1963 extradition treaty with the United States, when it declined to review a lower court ruling that found there was “probable cause” that he was a guard at Treblinka and Sobibor death camps.
PREPARATIONS IN ISRAEL
(In Israel, meanwhile, officials continued preparations for the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who will be held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison in Ramle. He will be watched around the clock by closed-circuit video cameras, permitted one hour of exercise a day in a prison courtyard and, officials said, his mail and reading material will be monitored.)
Demjanjuk, known by camp inmates as “Ivan the Terrible,” has been accused by the Justice Department of participating in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews and other inmates at the death camps where he is alleged to have operated the gas chambers.
Demjanjuk is expected to be tried by a three-man tribunal under a 1950 Israeli law, Punishment of Nazis and their Collaborators. If tried and convicted of murdering Jews during the Holocaust, Demjanjuk faces the death penalty. Demjanjuk has denied the charges.
Demjanjuk will become only the second Nazi war criminal to be tried in Israel. Adolf Eichmann, a senior Nazi official, was kidnapped by Israeli agents in Argentina and brought to Israel, where he was tried and convicted on war crimes charges. He was hanged in 1962.
A LANDMARK EVENT
However, this marks the first time a war criminal has been extradited from any country to Israel. “This is a landmark event because it’s the first time that any country has accepted an Israeli request for extradition of a war criminal,” according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. He said several Latin American nations have refused similar extradition requests for war criminals living there.
Steinberg, in response to a question, said it remained important for the Jewish people to pursue and bring accused war criminals to the bar of justice, even though the crimes were committed more than 40 years ago. “Murderers,” he said, “have to be brought to justice.”
While Demjanjuk may have been low in the hierarchy of the Nazi regime, Steinberg said “he was directly involved in the murder of so many hundreds of thousands of people. His responsibility is as great, or greater than those higher up.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a telephone interview that he also felt it was important that Israel try Demjanjuk. “It sends a message that it could be 40 or 50 years later, but there is no law to prevent their prosecution,” Hier declared.
Demjanjuk, Hier continued, “was assigned to gas human beings.” He said Demjanjuk “did it not only willingly but also tortured people …. For a person like that to escape the bar of justice is unconscionable.” Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, the WJC filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. court of appeals in New York urging that Karl Linnas, a Long Island man accused of war crimes, be deported from the U.S. He was stripped of his American citizenship by a U.S. court in 1981.
The Justice Department has charged that Linnas, a former commandant of the Nazi concentration camp at Tartu, Estonia, had taken part in the firing squad executions of 1,000 persons. Linnas, 66, is currently appealing a 1985 court decision ordering him deported to the Soviet Union.
The WJC brief noted that U.S. courts have determined that Linnas had “perpetrated atrocities against men, women and children while collaborating with the Nazis during the Second World War. These barbarian crimes amply qualify him for the opprobrious designation–enemy of all mankind!”