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Poland may investigate, extradite Demjanjuk

Nazi guard John Demjanjuk's wartime SS-issued identity document. ()

Nazi guard John Demjanjuk’s wartime SS-issued identity document. ()

CLEVELAND, June 18 — In a move that could hasten John Demjanjuk’s departure from the U.S., the Simon Wiesenthal Center has asked Poland to investigate the World War II activities of the 81-year-old Cleveland-area man and charge him with being a death camp guard. The investigation would be the first step toward Demjanjuk’s extradition to Poland to stand trial for war crimes. Demjanjuk, a resident of suburban Seven Hills, has appealed U.S. District Judge Paul R. Matia’s February order stripping him of his citizenship. Matia ruled that the Ukrainian immigrant lied about his service as a guard at three concentration camps in Poland so that he could enter the U.S. If the appeals court upholds Demjanjuk’s denaturalization, the government would begin deportation proceedings, a process that could take years. Last week in Warsaw, Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s director in Israel and the agency’s chief Nazi hunter, discussed the Demjanjuk case with three prosecutors and Prof. Leon Kieres, president of the Polish Institute of National Memory. The office, set up by the Polish government in 1999, documents Nazi and communist crimes, educates the public about the offenses and prosecutes the perpetrators, Zuroff said in a phone interview from Israel. The establishment of the Polish institute is a major development in that country. “For years there were no prosecutions (of Nazi war criminals) in Poland,” Zuroff says. “The Poles have turned around their whole operation in the last three years.” Last year, a Polish court convicted Henryk Mania of genocide and sentenced him to eight years in prison. Mania, a Pole living in Poland, was a guard at the Chelmno death camp. In a recent report Zuroff wrote on the investigation and prosecution of Nazi war criminals, Poland was the only Eastern European country to get a grade of “B” for their efforts. (Lithuania got a “C,” Estonia, Latvia and Czech Republic a “D” and the others an “X” for showing no activity regarding Nazi war criminals.) Thus, Zuroff is optimistic that Poland will pursue the Demjanjuk case. Demjanjuk could be extradited to Poland to stand trial on criminal charges even while his appeal of denaturalization is pending, says immigration attorney David Leopold. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Denaturalization is a civil case separate from any extradition request. If acquitted in Poland, Demjanjuk would be readmitted to the U.S. so he could defend his appeal, Leopold says. The retired autoworker was first stripped of his citizenship 21 years ago. Cleveland State University Prof. Alan Rosenbaum, who has written extensively about the Holocaust, notes that Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel in 1986 to stand trial on charges that he was sadistic Treblinka gas chamber guard “Ivan the Terrible.” Demjanjuk was extradited while he was appealing his first denaturalization, Rosenbaum says. In 1988, Demjanjuk was sentenced to death in Israel. But new documents available after the fall of the Soviet Union indicated someone else was Ivan. The Israeli Supreme Court freed Demjanjuk in 1993, saying that there was reasonable doubt of his guilt. He returned to the U.S. and his citizenship was reinstated. The Justice Department filed new charges in 1999, accusing him of being a guard at three concentration camps. While in Warsaw, Zuroff also discussed two other cases he’d like Poland to investigate. One involved Ukrainian Bogdan Koziz who served with the local security police in Lysiec. He personally murdered 17 Jews, Zuroff says. In 1981, Koziz was stripped of his U.S. citizenship. Before he could be deported, he fled to Costa Rica, where he is awaiting expulsion. But Costa Rican authorities can’t find a country willing to take him.