NEW YORK (Sep. 22)
John Demjanjuk stepped foot on American soil early Wednesday morning for the first time in more than seven years, but he managed to avoid the protesters, placards and larger-than-life effigy of himself that awaited his arrival at Kennedy International Airport here.
The man acquitted of being the notorious Treblinka guard “Ivan the Terrible,” who had spent the interim years in an Israeli prison cell, was quickly escorted off the E1 A1 jet that carried him from Israel and was whisked onto an awaiting private plane.
The former Cleveland autoworker then flew to Medina Municipal Airport, about 40 miles south of his home in suburban Cleveland. By landing there, he avoided the crowed of reporters and possible demonstrators waiting to see if he would land at the main Cleveland airport.
His destination after the Ohio airport was kept secret. He did not return home, where 18 Jewish demonstrators, led by New York Rabbi Avi Weiss, awaited him.
Dressed in gray and white replicas of death camp uniforms, the demonstrators promised to return whenever Demjanjuk comes home.
Demjanjuk was accompanied from Israel by his son and son-in-law, longtime supporter Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) and two bodyguards. Traficant reportedly chartered the plane that took Demjanjuk from New York to Ohio.
The accused Nazi war criminal reportedly flew Israel’s national airline because he needed a direct flight to the United States. France, which is a common stopover point for flights from Israel, had announced that it would not allow Demjanjuk to land on its soil.
Before takeoff in Israel, Kochava Eden, whose family perished in the Holocaust, walked off the plane when she discovered that she would be seated directly behind Demjanjuk.
ONE FINAL APPEAL
The flight brought to an end the Israeli chapter of Demjanjuk’s long legal battle. The Israeli Supreme Court on July 29 had overturned Demjanjuk’s 1988 conviction and death sentence for war crimes committed at Treblinka. But until Sunday, it had barred him from leaving the country, while it considered legal appeals.
The court finally rejected the petitioners’ arguments that he should be tried for war crimes allegedly committed at other concentration camps, including the Sobibor death complex in Poland.
In fact, Demjanjuk’s flight took off minutes before yet another Supreme Court injunction could be delivered to his prison cell, ordering his continued imprisonment. A Holocaust survivor had made one final appeal to the court — to no avail.
The way was cleared for Demjanjuk’s return to the United States on Aug. 3, when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ordered the Justice Department to allow his return while the court reconsiders the legality of his 1986 extradition to Israel.
The Justice Department is allowing Demjanjuk into the country on a temporary basis under the attorney general’s parole authority. But it has made clear that it will seek to have him deported again for lying about his wartime activities during his original attempt to enter the United States.
Jewish groups have vowed to keep up the pressure to have the native Ukrainian deported.
Because Demjanjuk did not enter the airport terminal at Kennedy, he could not see the few dozen protesters from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors who were assembled there.
Nor did he see the flames from the newspaper-stuffed effigy created by members of the militant Kahane Chai group, as they set it on fire inside the arrivals terminal.
Police, some holding rifles, quickly pulled the Kahane Chai members and the burning effigy outside the terminal door. Two arrests were made.
As Demjanjuk’s dummy-body was consumed by orange flames on the sidewalk outside, blackened pieces of the effigy remained smoldering on the airport floor.
‘SHOULDN’T HAVE RIOTS ABOUT IT’
The small group of Kahane Chai members, some dressed in fatigues and combat boots, were the loudest protesters at the early-morning demonstration, chanting “Death to Demjanjuk,” and “Rabin is a traitor, frees a Nazi Jew-hater.”
Other demonstrators quietly held signs reading “No war criminals in U.S.,” “Remember Sobibor” and “We seek justice for the 6 million — keep Demjanjuk out!”
Sue Schulman, a New Yorker waiting at the arrivals gate for her son, who was on the same E1 A1 flight as Demjanjuk, tried “shushing” the chanting Kahane Chai demonstrators.
“I don’t like that they stir things up so much. None of us forget (the Holocaust), but we shouldn’t have riots about it,” she said.
“And the Israelis should have sent Demjanjuk back to the Ukraine. Let them take care of him.”
Once he arrived, her son, Marc Schulman, said that the other passengers were “mostly annoyed” by Demjanjuk’s presence. “It felt like the plane was ‘tameh,’” he said, using the Hebrew term for unclean.
Members of Kahane Chai vowed not to let Demjanjuk alone anywhere he goes.
“We will not be silent until justice is served and he gets what he deserves,” said Mike Guzofsky, associate director of the group. “This is just the beginning of the effort.”
Other demonstrators, including New York activist Rabbi Avi Weiss, have said they will picket Demjanjuk’s Cleveland-area house.
But Demjanjuk’s hometown of Seven Hills last week hastily passed an ordinance prohibiting “unlawful picketing,” to deal with anti-Demjanjuk protests.
The Cleveland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz have promised to challenge the rule if any arrests are made.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv, and Marcy Oster and Vivian Witt of the Cleveland Jewish News.)