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As Israel Remembers Holocaust, Demjanjuk Presses His Appeal

May 1, 1992
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Israel observed Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day on Thursday marking the 50th anniversary of the worst year of Nazi genocide against the Jews.

In Treblinka, a guard the prisoners called “Ivan the Terrible” operated the gas chambers. On this Yom Hashoah, the man an Israeli court decided was “Ivan” and sentenced to death four years ago is making use of the judicial system to try to prove he is a victim of mistaken identity.

Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, extradited from the United States in 1986 for trial in Israel, is waiting for the High Court of Justice to decide his fate while his Israeli lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, doggedly sifts for new evidence to substantiate his appeals.

A former member of the High Court and one of Israel’s most distinguished jurists, retired Justice Haim Cohen, observed in a newspaper interview Thursday that Demjanjuk’s appeals may be dragging on because the judges are themselves not certain he is the “Ivan” responsible for atrocities at Treblinka.

Sheftel is trying to convince them that the real culprit was one Ivan Marchenko, long deceased. Marchenko was the maiden name of Demjanjuk’s mother.

In an effort to verify the claim of mistaken identity, the prosecution sent two representatives to Ukraine, where they examined KGB archives for two files said to contain evidence that Marchenko, not Demjanjuk, was the Treblinka executioner.

According to the defense, the files would yield 50 statements by camp guards who identified Marchenko when they were interrogated by Soviet authorities in 1961 and 40 photos of Marchenko in the “Ivan” file.


But the files could not be found. Prosecuting attorney Michael Shaked submitted an affidavit to the High Court on Wednesday attesting that they could not be located.

He said the authorities in both Russia and Ukraine cooperated in every possible way and did give him some new information which is being translated.

Meanwhile, Demjanjuk in his cell may have heard the sirens sound at 10 a.m. Thursday, bringing the country to a halt to observe the two minutes of silence that traditionally usher in Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Ceremonies were held Wednesday evening at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot, the home of many Holocaust survivors, and at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.

There were also ceremonies in the plaza outside the Knesset building. Knesset workers lit six torches in memory of the 6 million Holocaust victims. House Speaker Dov Shilansky, a survivor, placed a wreath at the foot of the torches.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said the message of Holocaust Day to the Jewish people was that no one should surrender even in the direst circumstances.

The prime minister spoke at a memorial ceremony in Ashdod for the 1,069 illegal immigrants who died when their ships, the Struma and Mefkure, foundered enroute to Palestine during World War II.

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