U.S. Tries Again to Strip Alleged Nazi Camp Guard of His Citizenship
Menu JTA Search

U.S. Tries Again to Strip Alleged Nazi Camp Guard of His Citizenship

Download PDF for this date

The Justice Department has launched a second attempt to strip alleged Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk of his U.S. citizenship.

The department’s Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on Wednesday alleging that the 79-year-old retired Cleveland autoworker was a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp and at the Majdanek and Flossenburg concentration camps.

The complaint also alleges that Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian native, served in the Nazi SS-run Trawniki unit that participated in a campaign to annihilate European Jews.

The Justice Department dropped its previous claim that Demjanjuk was the notorious Nazi guard named “Ivan the Terrible” who operated a gas chamber at the Treblinka extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942-1943.

The Justice Department made that charge in 1977 after several Treblinka survivors identified Demjanjuk as the guard from a photo spread, and the former Soviet Union provided from its war archives a Nazi identification card from the Trawniki camp where Nazi death camp guards were recruited and trained.

Based on that evidence, Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel in 1986 to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Following well-publicized and lengthy legal proceedings, an Israeli court convicted Demjanjuk of being Ivan the Terrible and sentenced him to death in 1988.

He spent five years on death row before the Israeli Supreme Court determined in 1993 that there was reasonable doubt that Demjanjuk was the Treblinka guard in light of evidence from the Soviet Union that suggested another man could have been Ivan the Terrible.

Although the court found that Demjanjuk had been a guard at Sobibor, Majdanek, Flossenburg and Trawniki, it released him because he had been extradited to stand trial on the “Ivan the Terrible” charges.

Since proceedings began against him nearly 20 years ago, Demjanjuk has maintained that he did not serve as a guard at any concentration or death camp. He has said he was a farmer in Poland and then a Soviet Red Army soldier who spent most of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp — a contention that both the Israeli Supreme Court and a U.S. federal judge concluded was false.

Following the Israeli Supreme Court’s reversal, the Office of Special Investigations was criticized by a U.S. appellate court for “reckless” withholding of evidence that Demjanjuk could have used to fight extradition.

Last year, the U.S. District Court in Cleveland threw out the original denaturalization order and reinstated Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship. But it said the government could reinstate denaturalization proceedings if the evidence warranted it.

Eli Rosenbaum, director of OSI, said the new complaint alleges that Demjanjuk served as an armed guard at Sobibor, where more than 200,000 men, women and children were murdered; at Majdanek, a death and labor camp, where between 200,000 and 360,000 died or were murdered; and at Flossenburg, where thousands were incarcerated as slave laborers and 30,000 prisoners died.

The government also charges that Demjanjuk began working for the Nazis in 1942 at the Trawniki training and base camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where he participated in Operation Reinhard, a Nazi program that rounded up 1.7 million Jews and murdered them by mass shootings or in death camps with poison gas.

Jewish groups commended the Justice Department’s move and expressed hope that Demjanjuk’s citizenship will finally and permanently be revoked.

“Living in this country is a privilege he does not deserve, and his continued presence here is an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund