JERUSALEM (Apr. 26)
“We did not come to take revenge,” said Treblinka survivor Yosef Charney, after John Demjanjuk was sentenced to death on Monday. “For crimes like his, there can be no revenge.”
Charney’s view was reflected by other Israelis, who expressed satisfaction that justice was served by the death penalty imposed on the former Treblinka death camp guard by a three-judge district court in Jerusalem.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir said, after the court decision, that “very many Jews all over the world are proud of their country, whose judges condemned a war criminal who murdered so many of our brothers and members of our families.”
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he “respected the court’s decision. As soon as the court had decided that Demjanjuk was the man, his fate was sealed.”
He was referring to the judges’ conclusion, on the basis of evidence presented during the 15-month trial, that the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was indeed the Treblinka guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” who operated the gas chambers where some 800,000 Jews perished.
The courtroom, packed with Holocaust survivors and their families, exploded with emotion when the accused was sentenced to hang. “A thousand deaths will not atone for your sins,” said Judge Zvi Tal.
There were cries of “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel), the prayer offered by Jews dying in the gas chambers. There was also applause, cheers, clenched fists and raucous shouts of “death, death.”
Several Sephardi Jews, for whose families the horrors of the Holocaust were remote, said in radio interviews that they believed justice had been done.
The newspaper Haaretz observed in an editorial Tuesday that “even those who believe that the Knesset was right to abolish the death penalty. out of principle, must accept the retention of this penalty (for war crimes and treason).
“Just as the judges were right in condemning Adolf Eichmann to the maximum punishment, so they were right yesterday, when they decided that Ivan Demjanjuk must pay with his life for the terrible crimes which, it has been proved, he indeed committed.”
Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution, was hanged in Israel on May 31, 1962. Comparing the reaction of the audience now to that at the time of Eichmann’s sentencing, Haim Guri in Tuesday’s Davar wrote, “Then, there was a profound silence.”