John Demjanjuk was a Nazi guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. He was found guilty in Germany of helping kill 28,060 Jews. During World War II, he joined the Soviet Red Army and was taken prisoner by the Germans (POW). He became a camp guard after going through special training. Demjanjuk changed his name from “Ivan” to “John” and became an American citizen when the war was over. But investigations showed that he had lied about his Nazi past in order to become a US citizen. Even though he always denied having anything to do with the Holocaust, 11 Holocaust survivors named him as “Ivan the Terrible,” a man who gave gas to the Nazis. He was set free because there wasn’t enough evidence against him, and his citizenship was restored. However, the German federal court charged him with being an accomplice to murder, and he was sent back to Germany. He was found guilty and given a prison sentence of five years. Demjanjuk died, though, before his case could be heard. This meant he was not guilty in the eyes of the law and could die as a free citizen. This was the first time in German legal history that a camp guard was tried even though there was no proof that he was involved in the killing of Jews.
Early years and childhood
Demjanjuk was born on April 3, 1920, in Dubovi Makharyntsi, Berdychiv uyezd, Kyiv Governorate, Ukraine.
He grew up and lived through the Holodomor, which was a famine in Ukraine.
At first, Demjanjuk worked on a Soviet collective farm as a tractor driver.
When Germany attacked Poland in 1941, which was ruled by the Soviet Union, he joined the Red Army.
After the Soviet soldiers lost a battle in Eastern Crimea, Demjanjuk became a German prisoner of war and was sent to a Nazi German concentration camp.
He asked to be sent to the section of the Trawniki concentration camp where the Hiwi guards were trained. After that, he worked in the Nazi camps of Majdanek, Sobibor, and Flossenbürg.
Demjanjuk arrived in New York City on February 9, 1952. On November 14, 1958, he became a citizen of the United States.
Then, he and his family moved to a suburb of Cleveland called Seven Hills, where he got a job as a UAW auto worker at the Ford plant.
In August 1977, the Justice Department asked the INS to look into John Demjanjuk’s past. When they did, they found that he had lied on his immigration application about working in the Nazi concentration camps.
John Demjanjuk’s Trials
In October 1983, Israel sent Demjanjuk a request under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators Law of 1950 to be tried in an Israeli court.
He was sent back to Israel, where he was tried at the Jerusalem District Court from November 26, 1986, to April 18, 1988. He was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible,” a person who worked in Nazi death camps.
In April 1988, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging by an Israeli court.
In August 1993, a higher appeal was made to the Israeli Supreme Court. The original ruling against him was thrown out because there wasn’t enough proof.
In 1988, the US gave him his citizenship back.
In February 2002, the Cleveland District Court again took away his citizenship because of what he did as a member of the SS-Run unit. The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals said on April 30, 2004, that Demjanjuk could lose his US citizenship again.
In December 2005, a US immigration judge said that Demjanjuk could be sent to Germany, Poland, or Ukraine.
In June 2008, Germany said that he would be sent to Munich to stand trial for war crimes there.
In March 2009, a German court said that Demjanjuk helped kill more than 29,000 Jewish prisoners at the Sobibor death camp.
Demjanjuk was sent back to Germany on May 11, 2009, from his home in Cleveland, Ohio, United States. This was done on the order of the German Foreign Ministry.
Demjanjuk’s family tried very hard to get the trial stopped by saying he was sick, but they all failed.
On 30 November 2009, Demjanjuk’s trial began in Munich. Four survivors of the Sobibor concentration camp and twenty-six relatives of people who died in the camp were among the 35 people who were allowed to join the case as joint plaintiffs.
Alexei Vaitsen, a Holocaust survivor and a Sobibor survivor, said in February 2010 that he recognized Demjanjuk as one of the guards. However, neither the prosecutor nor the defense lawyer believed this claim to be true.
On April 14, 2010, expert witness Anton Dallmeyer said under oath that Demjanjuk’s ID card had the same typesetting and handwriting as four other ID cards from the SS training camp at Trawniki.
On May 12, 2011, all the charges against John Demjanjuk were found to be true. The 91-year-old man was found to have helped kill 27,900 Jews, so a German court gave him five years in prison.
But Demjanjuk died before his appeal could be heard. Because of this, his conviction from May 2011 was thrown out, and he died legally innocent.
His Personal Life
John Demjanjuk died on March 17, 2012, at the age of 91, at a home for the elderly in Bad Feilnbach, Germany.
On March 31, 2012, he was buried in a secret US location, which is now the Ukrainian section of the Brooklyn Heights Cemetery in Parma, Ohio.
Demjanjuk’s lawyer asked for his US citizenship to be restored after he died on April 12, 2012. The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said no.
In June 2012, his lawyer filed a complaint saying that Demjanjuk’s death was caused by the pain medicine Novalgin he had been given. The investigation ended in November 2012 because there wasn’t enough proof.
He is survived by his wife, Vera, and his three children, John Jr., Lydia, and Irene.
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