1990: A LOOK BACK
The Demjanjuk case (cont'd)
John Demjanjuk, the former U.S. citizen appealing his 1988 conviction and death sentence handed down by an Israeli court for the Nazi war crimes committed by "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka death camp, awaited the Supreme Court's decision at Ayalon Prison. For the record, Mr. Demjanjuk turned 70 in April.
There were some startling developments in the case. A segment on the highly rated "60 Minutes" TV newsmagazine revealed the existence of a Polish witness who knew "Ivan" of Treblinka as Ivan Marchenko. As a result, at a February 27 press conference, Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) announced that he would present the new evidence to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation into the conduct of the Office of Special Investigations, the department's Nazi-hunting arm. He also asked Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to review the case.
Later, that same congressman, along with lawyers familiar with the Demjanjuk case, also spoke at a series of public meetings organized by UNCHAIN (Ukrainian National Center: History and Information Network) to focus on new developments in the unprecedented case.
Also in February Israel's Supreme Court agreed to seek new evidence in West Germany, where a witness's testimony could force a review of Mr. Demjanjuk's alibi.
In May the court agreed to hear the account of a Polish couple who lived near Treblinka and said that "Ivan the Terrible's" last name was Marchenko. It was Maria Dudek who had told her story to the CBS news program "60 Minutes." Her husband, Casimir, had died since the couple gave testimony to Polish authorities.
In June both the prosecution and the defense had concluded their arguments before the Supreme Court, with the defense presenting additional testimony indicating that there was a guard named Marchenko at the Treblinka death camp.
During the appeal, which had begun in mid-May, the defense argued that the judges hearing the Demjanjuk case in the District Court had been "antagonistic and hostile" to the defendant, questioned the validity of the photo identification process, and pointed to lingering doubts surrounding the central issue of the case, i.e. the identity of "Ivan the Terrible."
The five judges hearing the appeal agreed to consider new evidence even after the formal appeal was over.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a PBS documentary called "The Demjanjuk Dossier" was aired just prior to the beginning of Mr. Demjanjuk's Supreme Court appeal. Observers familiar with the case pointed to the film's biased nature, its misrepresentation and omission of facts, and its failure to include updated evidence beneficial to Mr. Demjanjuk. The documentary was financed by the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith.
At year's end, as the Demjanjuk family continued to await a final verdict, new evidence was found in Ukraine - again pointing to an Ivan Marchenko as the real "Ivan the Terrible." The evidence is contained in the Soviet files of the 1986 case of Feodor Fedorenko, who was found guilty of war crimes and executed in the USSR in 1987. One of the depositions in the file, among supporting testimony given by several Treblinka guards and maids, even provides a description of Marchenko that matches descriptions of "Ivan the Terrible."
As the Demjanjuk defense attempted to journey to Ukraine to examine the documents, however, the entire file was ordered transferred to Moscow, where it was studied by an Israeli delegation - apparently the Israeli prosecution team for the Demjanjuk case.
Rep. Traficant convened a press conference to demand that Soviet officials allow inspection of the Fedorenko file by a delegation encompassing his staffers, legal consultants and the Demjanjuk defense. In a letter to Soviet Procurator General Nikolay Trubin, the congressman requested assistance in gaining access to the file.
In Israel, meanwhile, an evidentiary hearing had been scheduled for December 31 to hear new evidence from Ukraine.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 30, 1990, No. 52, Vol. LVIII
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