Menu JTA Search

Waiting for Demjanjuk

Download PDF for this date

The expected arrival here later this week of accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk under escort of United States and Israeli marshals has triggered stepped-up efforts designed to pave the way for the second war crimes trial in the 38-year history of the Jewish State.

Demjanjuk, a native of the Ukraine, lost his last legal barrier preventing his extradition to Israel when the United States Supreme Court declined Monday to review a lower court ruling that found “probable cause” that Demjanjuk was a guard at the Nazi death camps at Treblinka and Sobibor.

The 65-year-old retired Cleveland auto worker is expected to be tried here under a 1950 law, Punishment of Nazis and their Collaborators. He faces possible execution if tried and convicted of the murder of Jews in World War II.

The only other person to be tried and convicted under this law was Adolf Eichmann, who was kidnapped by Israeli intelligence agents in Argentina and hanged in Jerusalem on May 31,1962.

The United States Justice Department accused Demjanjuk, known to death camp inmates as “Ivan the Terrible,” for his cruel treatment of prisoners, with operating the gas chambers at Treblinka where some 900,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.


Demjanjuk is expected to be brought to Israel aboard a direct El Al flight from New York, as a landing, even briefly, in an intermediate airfield might embarrass a foreign government during the passage of the controversial figure. Demjanjuk is being held in a federal prison facility in Springfield, Missouri.

Officials of the Justice Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office, the police and prison service had contingency plans developed last year when it became apparent that there was a strong possibility that Demjanjuk might be extradited to Israel under terms of a 1963 extradition agreement with the U.S.

Demjanjuk, who has maintained his innocence, saying he was a Soviet soldier during the war who was captured by the Nazis, has argued through his attorney that the extradition treaty between the two governments does not allow for him to be sent to Israel. He would be the first person extradited from the U.S. to Israel for crimes committed during World War II.


Justice Minister Moshe Nissim said Monday that Demjanjuk would be tried in the Jerusalem district court by panel of three judges headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court. While the Attorney General’s office and the police are preparing the charge sheet, other officials are deciding on where the trial will take place.

The venue must be dignified enough to serve as a court and large enough to accommodate the large number of people, including hundreds of foreign reporters, expected to view the trial. Justice Ministry personnel have inspected and found suitable for sue in the Demjanjuk trial the bullet-proof glass box which encased stand at which Eichmann sat during his trial. It has been preserved as an exhibit at the Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot Museum.

Demjanjuk will probably be held during the preparations for his trial, including his interrogation by the police for preparation of the charge sheet — which may take several months — in the same special cell at the Ramle Prison which housed Eichmann.

His prison guards will probably be chosen from a panel of individuals who have had no connection with the Nazis, either directly in their own person or through members of their family, to avoid the possibility of personal revenge.

But the question of who will represent Demjanjuk is still to be settled. Under Israeli law, only lawyers registered in Israel may plead in Israeli courts. It will not be easy to find a local attorney ready to undertake the defense of Demjanjuk, and the accused war criminal may request an attorney from abroad.

In the case of Eichmann, a special law was passed to enable a West German attorney, Robert Servatius, to appear in the Jerusalem court to defend him.

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