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To Dismay of Holocaust Survivors, Justice Dept. Will Not Bar Demjanjuk

In a blow to Holocaust survivors and others supporting the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, the Justice Department has decided not to seek a Supreme Court ruling barring John Demjanjuk’s possibly imminent return to the United States.

Attorney General Janet Reno announced Wednesday that the Justice Department would not ask the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision ordering the U.S. government to allow Demjanjuk’s return.

The decision not to appeal means that if the Israeli Supreme Court rules Thursday to set Demjanjuk free, he will be able to return here immediately.

It was the second setback this week for Jewish groups, who were already upset about the refusal Tuesday by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to rehear the matter.

Jewish groups had been strongly urging the Justice Department to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Reno’s announcement was short and offered no specifics on the reasoning behind the Justice Department’s decision. She said she could not comment further because a related matter was still pending before the appeals court, where oral arguments in the case were slated to be heard Friday.

The Justice Department has said repeatedly that it opposes Demjanjuk’s return to the United States on the grounds that he lied about his wartime activities when he entered the United States after the war and again when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

In her remarks Wednesday, Reno reiterated that position, and asserted that the Justice Department “will continue to do everything possible to uphold the court orders denaturalizing and deporting Mr. Demjanjuk.”

The Ukrainian native, now 73, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 for lying about his wartime past on his applications for a visa and U.S. citizenship.

He was extradited to Israel in 1986 and convicted there in 1988 of being the so-called “Ivan the Terrible” who brutalized Jews even as he sent them to the gas chambers, which he operated.

‘WE OWE IT TO THE VICTIMS’

Demjanjuk was acquitted July 29 by the Israeli Supreme Court of being the sadistic “Ivan” because of an inability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was that man.

But the court, in its decision, said it found compelling evidence that Demjanjuk was a guard at the Sobibor death camp and at the Flossenburg and Regensburg concentration camps.

Members of Congress who have led the fight to keep Demjanjuk out of the United States expressed their disappointment Wednesday with the Justice Department’s decision.

“I am very disturbed by today’s decision not to appeal this case to the Supreme Court. I am outraged that this former Nazi will be allowed back onto United States soil,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

And Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that it was “a mistake to capitulate to an out-of-control 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which seems to be on a misguided crusade to let a Nazi war criminal back onto U.S. soil.”

Representatives of Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors groups were also expressing dissatisfaction with the latest turn of events.

“We owe it to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust to continue to seek to prevent by every legal means Demjanjuk’s return to this country,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

Steinberg said his organization was making a last-ditch effort with the Israeli Supreme Court to keep Demjanjuk incarcerated in Israel.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said that the center was urging all its members to send telegrams to the White House “to tell the president that the Justice Department should stand with the victims of the Shoah and vigorously continue the case against Demjanjuk.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said his group was trying to see if there were any other legal remedies available to block Demjanjuk’s return.

“And failing that, we will set into motion as quickly as possible all legal means to have him deported as he was in the past,” Foxman said.

Benjamin Meed, founder and president of the American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said he felt “ashamed and dismayed” that the United States would let Demjanjuk return.

And Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder and leader of a group called Coalition of Jewish Concerns-AMCHA, said he hoped the Israeli Supreme Court would bring Demjanjuk up on other charges.

Failing that, he said, “we intend to shadow him wherever he goes.”

Meanwhile, Demjanjuk’s family members were reportedly saying that the former autoworker would not return to his suburban Cleveland home because of death threats against him.

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