Jurist Evokes a Storm of Anger by Saying That Demjanjuk Should Not Be Brought to Trial
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Jurist Evokes a Storm of Anger by Saying That Demjanjuk Should Not Be Brought to Trial

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Former Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohen’s remark that if he were Attorney General he would recommend that suspected Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk should not be brought to trial, raised a storm of protest in Israel Wednesday, especially from concentration camp survivors and children of Nazi victims.

Cohen, who is retired from the bench and a former Attorney General, also said on a television interview Tuesday night that if he were still a practicing lawyer, he would be prepared to assist in Demjanjuk’s defense.

Cohen, said that while he upholds in principle the right and duty to bring Nazi war criminals to trial for their acts, he believes that after more than 40 years it is difficult to provide accurate eye-witness identification of a suspect.

Demjanjuk’s defense is expected to hinge on mistaken identity. The 66-year-old Ukrainian-born former resident of Cleveland, Ohio, insists he is not the notorious Treblinka death camp guard known by the inmates as “Ivan the Terrible” because of his unmitigated brutality.

Cohen said that when he was a prosecutor more than 30 years ago he was convinced that a gap of even 10 years between crime and trial could result in unreliable identification. Cohen, who is noted for his outspoken defense of unpopular causes, observed also that there is a danger that convictions in Nazi war crime cases in Israel might be based on popular emotion without sufficient legal substantiation.


That aroused the wrath of Mapam MK Chaika Grossman. She said on a radio interview Wednesday that Cohen’s remark about emotionalism cast doubt on Israel’s capacity to bring any former Nazi to justice. “If we cannot do it, who else can?” she asked. “It’s not a matter of revenge but of justice and justice is not based on emotionalism.”

The Association of Children of Nazi Victims charged that Cohen’s remarks lent legitimacy to those who want to forgive the Nazis for their crimes. Association president Edna Steinberg suggested that they would only encourage neo Nazis throughout the world.

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv attorney Gershon Orion made clear that he agreed to assist in Demjanjuk’s defense only at the request of the Israel Bar Association to assist the defendant’s American lawyer, Mark O’Connor, with respect to Israel’s legal system. Orion stressed that even so, he would join the defense only on the basis of a court order.

He explained that he needed a court order to deflect possible accusations by his family and friends and others that he was helping a Nazi.


Demjanjuk, the first Nazi war criminal suspect ever extradited to Israel, will go on trial in Jerusalem on January 19. About 67 survivors of Nazi death camps are expected to testify. The case will be heard by a panel of three judges–Supreme Court Justice Dov Levin and District Court judges Dalia Lerner and Zvi Tal.

The hearings will be conducted in Hebrew with simultaneous English translation. The site of the trial has not been announced. A section of the Binyanei Hauma concert hall is considered a possibility because the trial is expected to attract great public attention.

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