JERUSALEM (Aug. 22)
Holocaust survivors and the Jewish groups supporting them are using a further two-week delay in the deportation of John Demjanjuk from Israel to build a legal case for trying the acquitted Nazi war criminal here on new charges.
But experts give them little chance of preventing the Ukrainian native from regaining his freedom, some seven years after he was extradited here from the United States.
In a ruling last Friday, Israel’s Supreme Court gave the petitioners 15 days to prepare their arguments for a hearing in front of an expanded judicial bench that would determine whether the retired Cleveland autoworker should be tried for war crimes other than those he was acquitted of last month.
Demjanjuk will remain in the country at least until then, the court ruled.
But in issuing Friday’s ruling, Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar emphasized that it did not reflect a predisposition by the court to grant the petitioners’ request for a new trial.
Demjanjuk’s 1988 conviction and death sentence for war crimes committed at the Treblinka death camp were overturned July 29 by the Supreme Court, which found reasonable doubt that he was the notorious gas chamber operator known as “Ivan the Terrible.”
But the court also ruled there was compelling evidence that Demjanjuk had served as an SS guard at the Sobibor death camp and at the Flossenburg and Regensburg concentration camps.
It was on these grounds that the petitioners, including Holocaust survivors, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress called for a new trial.
Their arguments were seriously weakened, however, when the state attorney general, Yosef Harish, recommended against a new trial.
Shamgar’s latest ruling came two days after three members of the court rejected petitions calling for the trial of Demjanjuk for alleged war crimes at Sobibor and other concentration camps.
In rejecting the petitions, the court upheld the recommendation of Harish, who argued that a new trial would not be in the interest of the state and that a conviction was uncertain.
FRANCE BARS DEMJANJUK STOPOVER
Shamgar’s latest ruling allowing the petitioners a second hearing before an expanded judicial panel is a “regular” and “routine” procedure, said Mordechai Kremnitzer, dean of the faculty of law at Hebrew University.
But, he cautioned, nothing beyond that should be inferred. “It just gives more time to petitioners to convince the court the grounds exist” for a second hearing.
He emphasized, however, that the petitioners’ arguments will be weighed by the court against the attorney general’s recommendation.
The Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center applauded Shamgar’s 15-day extension for the petitioners’ arguments.
“It gives the real victims in this case the opportunity to organize their claims as to why Demjanjuk should be tried” again, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s dean, said in a statement.
“We have to remember that the Demjanjuk defense team was granted many such delays during the trial, and it is only fair to give the same opportunity to the Holocaust survivors,” he said.
In the meantime, the center is rallying its 380,000 members in the United States to lobby President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno to bar Demjanjuk’s return there.
The U.S. Justice Department and Jewish groups have been seeking to bar Demjanjuk’s return. But on Aug. 3, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the government could not bar him from re-entering the country.
The U.S. Justice Department has appealed that decision to the full circuit court, asking it for a stay of the three-judge panel’s ruling pending the outcome of the appeal.
Before Shamgar’s latest ruling, when it appeared that Demjanjuk would be released last week, members of Demjanjuk’s family had reportedly made arrangements for him to fly back to the United States, with a stop in Paris.
But on Friday, the French government announced it would not allow Demjanjuk to travel by way of French territory.
This may prove somewhat of a stumbling block to the Demjanjuk family, because most American airlines flying to the United States from Israel make a stopover in Paris.