Menu JTA Search

Op-Ed: Comparing Demjanjuk to Jesus is obscene

NEW YORK (JTA) — John Demjanjuk, who is about be deported to Germany to stand trial for his role in the murder of 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp, is a Nazi war criminal. He may or may not have been the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” of Treblinka, but there is no question that he was Ivan the Not-so-Good of the Nazi training camp Trawniki, that he went on from there to be Ivan the Very Bad of Majdanek, Sobibor and Flossenburg, and that he lied on his visa application when he sought admission to the United States.

Most Americans do not consider Demjanjuk to be a praiseworthy or sympathetic figure. Except, of course, for Patrick Buchanan. The MSNBC political commentator and erstwhile reactionary candidate for the Republican presidential nomination likens Demjanjuk to none other than Jesus Christ.

I’m not kidding. In his syndicated column of April 17, Buchanan not only called Demjanjuk an “American Dreyfus” and “the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany’s sins,” but he wrote that the “spirit” behind the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is “the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago.”

Some innocent man. Among the findings of facts set forth by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in February 2002 are that “The primary purpose of Trawniki Training Camp was to train men to assist the Nazi government of Germany in implementing its racially motivated policies, including and in particular ‘Operation Reinhard’ ”;  that “ ‘Operation Reinhard’ was the Nazi program to dispossess, exploit, and murder Jews in Poland”; that “Upon his arrival at Trawniki Training Camp, Defendant [Demjanjuk] entered service in the Guard Forces of the SS and Police Leader in Lublin District”; that “by January 18, 1943, while a member of the Guard Forces of the SS and Police Leader in Lublin District, Defendant was serving as an armed guard at the concentration camp located near Lublin, commonly known as the Majdanek Concentration Camp”; that “Defendant began serving at the Sobibor extermination camp no later than March 27, 1943”; that “In serving at Sobibor, Defendant contributed to the process by which thousands of Jews were murdered by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide”; that “On or about October 1, 1943, Defendant was transferred from Trawniki to Flossenburg Concentration Camp, where he became a member of the SS Death’s Head Battalion Flossenbürg”; and that “Defendant misrepresented and concealed his wartime residences and activities, which constituted misrepresentations and concealments of his wartime employment and residences for the purpose of gaining admission into the United States.”

None of this matters to Buchanan, whose longtime public support for a succession of Nazi war criminals from Demjanjuk to Karl Linnas to Arthur Rudolph is a constitutionally protected perversion. He even admires Adolf Hitler. In 1977, Buchanan wrote that, “Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier’s soldier … a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him.”

Buchanan has never bothered to hide his offensive views on Israel and Jews. After the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Buchanan said on national television that "There are only two groups that are beating the drums right now for war in the Middle East, and that is the Israeli defense ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” He has referred to Capitol Hill as "Israeli-occupied territory," and he considers the State of Israel to be "a strategic albatross draped around the neck of the United States."

In a September 1993 speech to the Christian Coalition, Buchanan said that “Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free.” After John Cardinal O’Connor had deplored Roman Catholic anti-Semitism, Buchanan declared, “If U.S. Jewry takes the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate as indicative of our submission, it is mistaken. When Cardinal O’Connor of New York seeks to soothe the always irate Elie Wiesel by reassuring him ‘there are many Catholics who are not anti-Semitic’ … he speaks for himself. Be not afraid, Your Eminence; just step aside, there are bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith.”

Buchanan has also been a reliable ally of Holocaust deniers and other Nazi sympathizers. In his March 17, 1990 syndicated column, he wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp, and referred to a “so-called Holocaust survivor syndrome" that he described as involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”

Two years ago, Don Imus was unceremoniously dumped by MSNBC after making racially insensitive remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. Buchanan’s colleagues at MSNBC have consistently tolerated and overlooked his bigoted worldview. So has the Roman Catholic establishment since he strongly opposes abortion rights. Perhaps Buchanan’s obscene comparison of Demjanjuk to Jesus Christ will now cause them to reconsider. At the very least, MSNBC executives should explain how they justify Buchanan’s continued appearances on their programs.

(Menachem Z. Rosensaft is general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School.)

NEXT STORY