Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Demjanjuk Family Request Denied by Federal Judge

February 7, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The family of convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk received a setback recently in its attempt to appeal his death sentence.

On Jan. 26, Judge Louis Oberdorfer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a request by Demjanjuk’s son-in-law that the Justice Department produce documents that led to the ex-Cleveland autoworker’s denaturalization in 1981.

The documents were interviews conducted by attorneys from the department’s Office of Special Investigations with five witnesses who implicated Demjanjuk in various war crimes.

Demjanjuk, who was extradited to Israel in 1986, was sentenced to death there on April 25, 1988. He had been convicted a week earlier of being “Ivan the Terrible,” the man who operated the gas chambers at Treblinka, where an estimated 900,000 Jews died.

In April 1987, Oberdorfer had upheld a Freedom of Information Act request by Edward Nishnic, Demjanjuk’s son-in-law. Oberdorfer required OSI to provide an index to all of its documents on the Demjanjuk case.

Oberdorfer rejected the latest FOIA suit by saying Nishnic “did not meet the burden of providing some evidence that relevant documents exist” that were not listed in the 1987 OSI index.

Oberdorfer rejected Nishnic’s three main allegations of inconsistencies in OSI’s handling of the case, all involving differing statements made by OSI attorneys.


In November, Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk’s Israeli attorney, obtained a six-month delay from Israel’s Supreme Court, which had planned to hear the appeal of Demjanjuk’s death sentence.

The delay was granted in light of the updated FOIA case in Washington, as well as an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility into OSI’s handling of the case.

The appeal, now scheduled for May, could be delayed further because of the ongoing, 5-month-old OPR investigation.

Reacting to Oberdorfer’s ruling, John Demjanjuk Jr. had no comment, except to say, “We are still in the process of deciding what we are exactly going to do. Certainly there are many avenues that can be taken at this point.”

Except for citing the OPR investigation, Demjanjuk refused to provide any additional avenues.

Neal Sher, director of OSI, said Oberdorfer’s latest ruling “speaks for itself. It sustains our position.”

One central issue in the OPR investigation is whether OSI threw out two documents requested by Demjanjuk in violation of Oberdorfer’s 1987 FOIA ruling.

Rep. James Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) last summer accused OSI of trashing them.

Traficant aides showed the Jewish Telegraphic Agency original copies of the documents, which were 1979 OSI interviews with former Nazi prison guard Otto Horn in West Berlin. One of the documents, written by OSI historian George Garand, was not made part of the record in Israel.

A well-placed Justice Department official familiar with OSI’s handling of the case denied that it trashed the documents to avoid listing them in the index, saying it does not throw out original documents.

Recommended from JTA