KIEV, Ukraine (May. 18)
A small group of Ukrainian nationalists picketed the Israeli Embassy in Kiev earlier this month, demanding the release of convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk from his Israeli prison.
Demjanjuk has been sentenced to death in Israel for being “Ivan the Terrible,” the notorious guard at the Treblinka death camp.
The group of approximately 30 to 40 demonstrators, the majority of them bused in from western Ukraine, demonstrated in front of the embassy with posters and signs saying “Freedom for Demjanjuk” and “Shame on Israel.”
The protesters attempted to present a petition to embassy employees, but it was refused.
The case of Demjanjuk began in 1977 when the United States, responding to a request by Israel, investigated allegations against the retired Ohio auto worker.
Demjanjuk’s American citizenship was revoked after it was revealed that he lied about his wartime activities on his citizenship application after World War II.
Demjanjuk was then deported to Israel to stand trial for his role in the murder of 900,000 Jews at the Treblinka death camp. Throughout the trial, dozens of witnesses testified that Demjanjuk was the operator of the gas chambers, known as “Ivan the Terrible.” He was later convicted and sentenced to death by the Israeli court.
His case is currently on appeal before Israel’s Supreme Court, and a decision is expected to be handed down shortly.
An official statement by the Israeli Embassy in Ukraine, responding to the demonstration, stated only that no external influences or authorities can affect the decision of the court.
RELATIVELY MINOR ISSUE IN UKRAINE
Though the Demjanjuk case is a major rallying point for Ukrainian communities abroad, especially in the United States and Canada, it is a relatively minor issue in Ukraine itself.
The case is rarely brought up in a political context or discussed in the Ukrainian mass media.
Both the president’s office and Rukh, the leading Ukrainian political party, distanced themselves from the demonstrators and their demands. The demonstration remained small and ended peacefully.
While the Demjanjuk case has sparked tension between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities in North America, the Ukrainian government has made serious attempts to build ties with the Jewish community here and abroad, distancing itself from the anti-Semitic policies of the former Soviet Communist government.
Last year, diplomatic ties were established between Israel and Ukraine, and the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, addressed the Knesset earlier this year during an official visit to Israel.
Some members of the local Jewish community have expressed apprehension about the possibility of an outbreak of anti-Semitism if Demjanjuk’s death sentence is upheld.
None of the major leaders of the Jewish community were willing to comment on the case.
Though the massive emigration from the Ukraine to Israel that began in 1989 continues, there are still over a half million Jews living in the country.