JERUSALEM (Dec. 23)
John Demjanjuk seemed almost bored Monday, as Israel’s High Court of Justice heard his lawyer level astounding new charges that Israel had knowingly convicted the wrong man for wartime atrocities committed at the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
The 71-year-old former Cleveland autoworker sat quietly on his bench, peered indifferently through his thick-lensed glasses and even yawned occasionally, as attorney Yoram Sheftel claimed the United States and Israel had suppressed evidence allegedly proving Demjanjuk was not the brutal Treblinka guard inmates called “Ivan the Terrible.”
The justices, too, did not seem moved. But after five hours of arguments from Sheftel and rebuttals from Israeli prosecutor Michael Shaked, they agreed to hear new evidence from both sides, though not until next month.
Hearings on Demjanjuk’s appeal of his 1988 death sentence, which resumed Monday after a four-month hiatus, have been adjourned until Jan. 15.
During his 1988 trial, the portly, bespectacled Demjanjuk was identified by five Treblinka survivors as the “Ivan” who terrorized concentration camp inmates.
But the defense has contended since the outset that the accused is an innocent victim of mistaken identity, who was wrongly extradited from the United States to Israel in 1986.
On Monday, Sheftel added a new wrinkle to that argument when he accused both the Israeli authorities and the U.S. Department of Justice of conspiring to suppress evidence that Demjanjuk and “Ivan” were not the same person.
The Justice Department’s Criminal Division said last week that it was investigating the allegations and would give the matter “high priority.”
JUSTICES APPEARED ANNOYED
In the courtroom, attorney Sheftel presented his arguments fervently, but with such repetition that the five-judge panel appeared annoyed.
Prosecutor Shaked responded with scorn and indignation to Sheftel’s charges.
The justices presided sternly but with an air of weariness over points raised many times before. Their skepticism toward the defense claims reflected an abiding faith in Israel’s judicial system, which convicted Demjanjuk after a scrupulously fair trial in which the evidence presented against him seemed overwhelming.
Demjanjuk, clad in a brown pullover sweater and brown trousers, sat quietly throughout the proceedings, which he followed through an interpreter, although he is said to have picked up considerable Hebrew during seven years in an Israeli jail. He chatted amiably with his guards during the breaks.
Sheftel devoted much of his presentation to describing an alleged international conspiracy to conceal from the defense documents which could have prevented the defendant’s extradition, much less his trial. The participants in the conspiracy, according to Sheftel, were the Americans, the Poles, the KGB and the Israeli prosecution.
In August, Demjanjuk’s defense introduced a newly uncovered photograph, along with depositions given Soviet officials by 21 former Treblinka guards between the 1940s and 1960s, which seemed to point to a man named Ivan Marchenko as “Ivan the Terrible.”
Sheftel charged that American and Israeli officials possessed that material since 1978 but suppressed it. He alleged that since Marchenko is probably dead, U.S. Nazi-hunters decided to frame Demjanjuk, who came to America after the war.
NEW EVIDENCE FOR PROSECUTION
Demjanjuk, who was investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 on grounds that when applying for it, he lied about his wartime activities.
Prosecutor Shaked maintained Israeli officials discovered the depositions only a year ago. He said he had access to them for the first time in December 1990 because of Israel’s improved relations with the Soviet Union.
Moreover, the prosecution said Monday that it had further evidence refuting Demjanjuk’s claim that he was never a concentration camp guard. Documents place him not only at Treblinka but at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor concentration camp, both in Poland, and at the Flossenberg camp in Germany.
In New York, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said Monday that the prosecution’s additional evidence would “once and for all shatter Demjanjuk’s alibi that he was in a prisoner of war camp” during the war.
Steinberg said the prosecution would present documents found in the German National Archives.
“They are a collection of German SS documents which include Demjanjuk’s name, showing his service in Sobibor, Flossenberg and Ravensbruck,” he said.
“And even more significantly, it lists his serial number as 1393, the same number on the Trawniki card, which the defense has always maintained was a forgery,” he said.
Demjanjuk is the second person sentenced to death by an Israeli court. The first, Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, was hanged in 1961.
But even if the High Court upholds the sentence, it could be commuted by the president of Israel.