FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASECRM
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 1999(202) 616-2777
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REFILES DENATURALIZATION CASE AGAINST ACCUSED NAZI DEATH CAMP GUARD JOHN DEMJANJUK
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Department of Justice today asked a federal court in Cleveland to revoke the U.S. citizenship of John Demjanjuk.
In its complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, the government alleged that Demjanjuk, 79, a retired auto-worker, was a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp and at the Majdanek and Flossenbürg concentration camps. It also alleged that the Cleveland area resident was a member of the SS-run "Trawniki" unit that participated in the Nazi campaign to annihilate the Jews of Europe.
In 1981, the federal court found Demjanjuk to be "Ivan the Terrible," a gas chamber operator at the Treblinka extermination camp. He was extradited to Israel in 1986, convicted of crimes against humanity by an Israeli trial court, and sentenced to death. But after the Israeli Supreme Court found that reasonable doubt existed as to whether Demjanjuk was "Ivan the Terrible," he was released.
Last year, the U.S. District Court in Cleveland vacated the original denaturalization order, but authorized the government to reinstitute denaturalization proceedings.
Today's complaint was filed by the Office of Special Investigations ("OSI"), the Appellate Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland.
Eli M. Rosenbaum, Director of OSI, said that the complaint alleged that Demjanjuk was an armed guard at the Sobibor death camp, established by the Nazis for the sole purpose of murdering Jewish civilians. The complaint stated that when Jewish prisoners arrived by train, guards presided over their disembarkation, ordered them to strip naked, and herded them into gas chambers. Exhaust from a diesel engine was then pumped into the chambers. More then 200,000 men, women, and children were murdered at Sobibor.
The complaint also alleged that Demjanjuk began working for the Nazis in 1942, at the Trawniki Training Camp, an SS-run training and base camp in Nazi-occupied Poland that prepared eastern European recruits to assist German personnel in implementing the Third Reich's genocidal race policies.
It asserted that Demjanjuk and other Trawniki men participated in "Operation Reinhard," the Nazi program to exterminate Jews in occupied Poland. During Operation Reinhard, some 1.7 million Jews were rounded up and murdered by mass shootings or in specially constructed death camps by poison gas. Tens of thousands of other Jews were confined to forced-labor camps and exploited as slave laborers until they either succumbed to starvation, exhaustion, or disease, or were murdered outright.
The complaint further stated that Demjanjuk was also an armed guard at the Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin in Nazi-occupied Poland, which functioned both as a death camp, where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered in gas chambers, and as a concentration camp, where civilians were incarcerated as slave laborers under inhumane conditions. In addition to the Jews who were immediately gassed upon arrival there, Majdanek prisoners no longer able to work were gassed, shot, or hanged on a regular basis, while others were killed at the camp by lethal injections, mistreatment, starvation, and disease. The number of persons who perished at Majdanek during its existence has been estimated at between 200,000 and 360,000.
In addition, the complaint alleged that Demjanjuk served as an SS guard at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where thousands of prisoners were incarcerated under inhumane conditions as slave laborers. Approximately 30,000 prisoners died at Flossenbürg during the war.
After the war, according to the complaint, Demjanjuk willfully misrepresented his wartime activities to United States immigration officials to obtain a visa, claiming that he spent the war working on a farm in Sobibor, Poland, and as a laborer in Germany. Demjanjuk entered the United States in 1952, and became a citizen in 1958.
Emily M. Sweeney, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said that the complaint alleged that Demjanjuk served in Nazi death and concentration camps, concealed these facts when he applied to become a United States citizen, and should be denaturalized.
Throughout the proceedings against him, Demjanjuk has denied serving as a guard in any concentration or death camp. However, the Israeli Supreme Court expressly found Demjanjuk's alibi "unreasonable," and the Israeli trial court flatly concluded, "It is a lie." Federal District Court Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr., of Nashville, appointed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to review the government's conduct in the prior case, offered a similar assessment, stating that "Mr. Demjanjuk's alibi was so incredible as to legitimately raise the suspicions of his prosecutors that he lied about everything."
In 1981, a federal court in Cleveland revoked Demjanjuk's citizenship after finding that he was "Ivan the Terrible" and a guard at Trawniki. In light of these findings, the court deemed it unnecessary to rule on the government's contention that Demjanjuk also served at Sobibor. Although Demjanjuk was ordered deported, he was extradited to Israel in 1986, where he was tried and convicted of being "Ivan the Terrible" by an Israeli trial court and sentenced to death. In 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court reversed the conviction after prosecutors discovered evidence from the Soviet Union suggesting that another man could have been Ivan the Terrible. While the Israeli Supreme Court concluded that Demjanjuk had been a guard at both Sobibor and Trawniki, as well as at the Majdanek and Flossenburg concentration camps, it nonetheless released him, on the basis that he had been extradited to stand trial on the "Ivan the Terrible" charges. He subsequently returned to the United States.
In 1992, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which had previously affirmed the 1985 extradition decision, reopened the case against Demjanjuk, and appointed Judge Wiseman Special Master to inquire into allegations that federal prosecutors had improperly withheld exculpatory evidence from Demjanjuk. The following year, Judge Wiseman determined that although prosecutors had acted in good faith and had not acted "willfully" or "recklessly," they had failed to disclose certain documents to Demjanjuk during the denaturalization and extradition processes. He also concluded, however, that no evidence undermined the initial finding that Demjanjuk had been a guard at Trawniki, and he therefore pronounced the 1981 denaturalization order "sound." On review, the U.S. Court of Appeals found that the government's nondisclosures were "reckless."
In February 1998, a federal trial court vacated the original denaturalization order against Demjanjuk but specifically permitted the government to file a new complaint if it believed that the evidence against Demjanjuk so warranted. Today, the government did so.
Since OSI began operations in 1979, 61 Nazi persecutors have been stripped of U.S. citizenship, and 49 such individuals have been removed from the United States. Additionally, more than 150 Nazi persecutors who sought to enter the United States in recent years have been blocked from doing so as a result of OSI's "watchlist" program. More than 250 persons are currently under investigation by the Department of Justice unit.
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