The court's findings in United States v. Demjanjuk are succinct and dry. Ivan Demjanjuk, born in 1920 in the Ukraine and in recent years resident in Cleveland, was conscripted into the Red Army in 1940. In May 1942, 11 months after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, he was captured, and, a few months later, trained at a camp in Trawniki, Poland, to help the Germans exterminate the Jews. At Trawniki former Soviet POWs, many of them Ukrainians, were given uniforms, organized into military units, armed and salaried. In return they swore obedience to the German S.S. and its rules.
According to the court's findings, Demjanjuk was soon after sent to Treblinka, one of the Nazis' main extermination centers, where he operated the gas chambers. In Treblinka's gas chambers 900,000 Jewish men, women and children were killed between the summers of 1942 and 1943. Witnesses at Demjanjuk's trial, most of whom had been forced to carry corpses out of the chambers to nearby burial pits, said they remembered the defendant well. They testified that he activated the motors that pumped the gas into the chambers, herded the Jews into them and beat them as he did so. The testimony regarding his extracurricular activities was in a grisly way redundant. Before the Jews were killed, Demjanjuk often tortured them, witnesses said; one survivor recalled that Demjanjuk used a wood drill to torture the survivor's friend. "The savage cruelty of this notorious man," Judge Frank J. Battisti observed in his decision, departing from his otherwise dispassionate account, "earned him the special nickname among the camp's Jewish inmates, 'Ivan Grozny,' or 'Ivan the Terrible.'
After the war, Ivan Demjanjuk became one of Europe's 8 million displaced persons, a huge horde of both the persecuted and their persecutors. In 1950 he applied to come to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act that Congress had passed to admit European refugees while denying entrance to those who had "assisted the enemy in persecuting civil populations" or had "voluntarily assisted the enemy forces." In his application, Demjanjuk mentioned neither his work at Treblinka nor his service to the German military; he said he had been a farmer in Poland from 1937 to 1943 and then had worked in Germany. In 1952, issued a visa, Demjanjuk entered the U.S. In due course, having sworn he had not lied in the procbecame a citizen and changed his name to John. For many years he lived in Cleveland and worked in a Ford plant.
But Demjanjuk's world was overturned in 1981 when Judge Battisti found that he had lied in order to become a citizen and had concealed facts that would have made him ineligible for citizenship or even entry into the U.S. The judge proceeded to denaturalize him. Later, Demjanjuk tried to reopen the case by arguing that some of the evidence used in the trial -- the identification card, said to have been issued to him by the Nazis at the Trawniki camp -- had been forged by the Soviets, that two witnesses had lied and that the Justice Department had collaborated with the Soviets in the forgery and the perjury. Battisti heard the arguments and rejected them. Last year, Demjanjuk, who denied the charges against him at his trial and continues to deny them and to maintain that he never served the Nazis or worked in concentration camps, was found deportable to the Soviet Union. An appeal is pending. In the meantime, at the request of Israel, Judge Battisti has ruled that Demjanjuk be extradited to that country, where he could be executed if found guilty. Demjanjuk has also appealed the extradition case.
If he were deported to the Soviet Union instead of extradited to Israel, Demjanjuk wouldn't be the first to experience that fate. That distinction has been accorded to Feodor Fedorenko, also a Ukrainian found to have served the S.S. at Treb December, having been found to have assisted "in thousands of murders," Fedorenko was sent to the Soviet Union. At New York's Kennedy Airport, he told government officials, "I am going home."
A number of similar cases are moving toward a judgment of deportation to the Soviet Union. Most of the approximately 30 persons against whom charges of this sort are pending, and many of the 300 under investigation, are from areas now ruled by the Soviet Union. A significant number are from the Baltic states -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- where, as in the Ukraine, some members of the population helped Nazis in their persecution, and murder, of civilians.
During the past few years, a vigorous campaign has been waged in this country to prevent the deportation of Demjanjuk and others like him, and to vilify the Office of Special Investigations, the Justice Department unit created in 1979 to prosecute these cases. This campaign has been waged, by ,emigr,es and the children of ,emigr,es from the areas from which most of the accused Nazi collaborators came. To some extent, their efforts are understandable: they fear that the identification of these people as Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians or Ukrainians serves to taint -- unjustifiably -- all ,emigr,es from those areas as collaborators, especially in the minds of Americans unaware that most people who lived in the Baltic states and the Ukraine under Nazi rule suffered greatly from the Germans and did not collaborate with them in any way. But more powerful than that concern appears to be the belief that by sending such persons to the Soviet Union the U.S. is, implicitly, recognizing that the areas from which they came -- particularly the Baltic states -- are in fact legitimate parts of the Soviet Union.
To combat the government's denaturalization and deportation program, the ,emigr,e groups have, in the main, used two arguments. One has been that the individuals charged are, simply, innocent. The other has been that the government's case against at least some of them is invalid because part of the evidence used against them comes from Soviet documents and witnesses. By allowing Soviet evidence into the record, these ,emigr,e groups and their supporters argue, we have permitted the cherished precincts of our legal system to be invaded by the corrupt and corrupting tentacles of Soviet legality, the aim of which is not justice but the disparagement of anti- Soviet ,emigr,es and the embarrassment of the U.S. as the protector of ex-Nazis.
Eli Rosenbaum, a former Justice Department lawyer, has observed that the ,emigr,e campaign against the OSI, which has grown markedly during the past six months, has taken on strong anti-Semitic overtones. For example, a Lithuanian-language newspaper published here has accused Jews of having been "the first to torture and murder the hospitable Lithuanians," and has said the the OSI is controlled by "the Jewish lobby."
But even if the campaign has developed an anti-Semitic dimension, it is important to look beyond the anti- Semitism and to take seriously the arguments made against the OSI's methods and the deportation trials, especially against the use of evidence from the Soviet Union. We certainly can't be in the position of deporting persons on the basis of evidence that doesn't meet our criteria of validity.
There are good reasons to think that we aren't. The Soviet-supplied documents are subjected not only to handwriting analysis but also to examination of paper and ink samples to confirm their age and origins and to be sure that they have not been fabricated. In Demjanjuk's case, the finding that he had been at the Nazis' Trawniki training camp was based on an identity card the Soviets said they found that they later supplied to the Office of Special Investigations. But this finding was only one of several against Demjanjuk, the others including the far more crucial conclusion that he actually operated the Treblinka gas chambers -- a finding based on testimony of Treblinka survivors, none of whom were Soviet citizens and all of whom identified the photograph on his 1951 U.S. visa application.
So far there has been no proof of Soviet fabrications in any of these cases. One defendant, George Theodorhe had signed reports documenting his participation in "actions" against Jews and called them forgeries, finally admitted that he in fact authored and signed the reports -- in order, as he explained it, to account to his Nazi superiors for some missing ammunition.
Moreover, in the vast majority of cases, the evidence is compelling that the witnesses from whom the Justice Department has taken depositions in the Soviet Union have not been forced by the KGB to present uniformly one- sided, false and defaming evidence against the defendants. In one case, against Mikola Kowalchuk of Philadelphia, Soviet witnesses gave exculpatory testimony that convinced the OSI to drop the charges against him.
The maintenance of our program to deport Nazi collaborators is important enough on its own merits, but there is another reason we should maintain and even strengthen it. The struggle against the Nazis was the only effort to which we and the Soviets have ever been jointly and genuinely committed. That enterprise is remembered with enough warmth to make it the main, and perhaps only, reservoir of kinship between our countries. And so now, at a time when our common enemy, mutual nuclear annihilation, is potentially even more dangerous than was Hitler, and when we are just beginning to re-engage each other in the wary process of negotiating ways to reduce that danger, it is precisely from the remaining reservoir of good will that was formed during our shared struggle against the Nazis that we should draw the spirit that could foster our joint efforts. As soon as possible -- perhaps in the wake of the 40th anniversary of VE Day, which will take place on May 8, and perhaps even in Geneva, at the site of the arms control negotiations -- we should agree on a treaty, or other form of understanding, in which the U.S. would affirm its intention to send to the Soviets all those who worked for the Nazi killing machine who were born in what is now the Soviet Union, and in which the Soviets would agree to take them.
For our part, initiating such an understanding, and continuing to deport former Nazi collaborators who lied their way into our midst, would be a way of doing the last justice possible to some of their victims. For the Soviets' part, accepting the collaborators would be a way of joining in that act of justice. Such a joint action would certainly revive our memories of our common past; and it might even enhance our chances for a common future.