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Demjanjuk Sentenced to Death for War Crimes at Treblinka

April 26, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

John Demjanjuk, the Treblinka death camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible,” was sentenced to death Monday by the three-judge Jerusalem district court.

“One thousand deaths would not atone for your crimes,” Judge Zvi Tal said to the guilty man, reading from the unanimous sentence of the bench.

The 68-year-old Demjanjuk was found guilty on April 18 of crimes against the Jewish people, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against a persecuted people.

The court decided on the basis of evidence that the retired automobile worker from Cleveland, Ohio, was the Treblinka guard who operated the gas chambers where some 800,000 Jews perished.

He was convicted under the 1950 Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Law, which carries the death penalty. Under Israeli law, appeal to the Supreme Court is mandatory. If the conviction and sentence are upheld, the sentence will be carried out in about six months, by hanging.

Demjanjuk would be the second war criminal executed under the law. Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel on May 31, 1962.

In arguments before sentencing Monday, State Attorney Yonah Blattman maintained that the death penalty was mandatory under the Nazi Collaborators Law. The court preferred not to accept that interpretation. It agreed with Blattman that given the conviction and the nature of the crimes, its imposition of the death penalty was discretionary.

Defense counsel declined to argue for a lesser sentence on grounds that to do so would imply an admission of guilt.

Demjanjuk maintained throughout his 15-month trial that he was a victim of mistaken identity. He continued to insist his innocence at the sentencing.


Before sentencing, Demjanjuk again said he had back pains and wished to remain in his cell like last Monday, when the verdict was read. But the court insisted that he be present in court to hear the sentence pronounced.

Addressing the court briefly, Demjanjuk said, “Today you are to pass sentence on ‘Ivan the Terrible’ but in fact you will not be sentencing ‘Ivan the Terrible’ because you did not try him.” He added, “You tried another man, an innocent man, John Demjanjuk.”

But the death sentence was unanimous. The crimes for which Demjanjuk was convicted cannot be forgiven. They have no statute of limitation, presiding Judge Dov Levin said.

“They are timeless . . . as though Treblinka still existed, as though the blood of whole villages of Jewish people were still seething . . . and ‘Ivan the Terrible’ were still standing, merciless, slashing off breasts, cleaving open stomachs.”

When the death penalty was pronounced, spectators in the courtroom applauded and cheered.

Demjanjuk’s son, John Jr., who was at his father’s side during most of the trial, reacted bitterly. The judges are the “real criminals” in the trial, he said. The sentence shamed Israeli justice and the six million Holocaust victims, he said.

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