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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A federal court in Cleveland today stripped John Demjanjuk of his U.S. citizenship, ruling that federal prosecutors proved at a two-week trial in May and June 2001 that he served the Nazi regime during World War II as a "willing" guard at Nazi camps "for more than two years." The court found that Demjanjuk served at four such camps, including the notorious Sobibor extermination camp, where he participated in "the process by which thousands of Jews were murdered by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide" in the camp's gas chambers. As a Sobibor guard, Demjanjuk is only the second person to be prosecuted in the United States for having served at one of the four Nazi camps constructed solely to murder civilians.

Demjanjuk, 81, a retired auto worker, immigrated to the United States in 1952 by concealing this service, and became a naturalized citizen in 1958. As Chief Judge Paul R. Matia found in revoking Demjanjuk's citizenship, "The Government has proven by clear, convincing, and unequivocal evidence that Defendant assisted in the persecution of civilian populations during World War II." Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the decision, stating, "Today's decision shows that the efforts of the United States in finding and prosecuting those who perpetrate heinous acts of violence against innocent civilians will be unrelenting, whether it takes days or decades."

Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said that the decision "affirms the Justice Department's strong commitment to the principle that individuals who assisted the Nazis are undeserving of the privilege of American citizenship." Eli M. Rosenbaum, Director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI), which, along with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland, brought the case against Demjanjuk, called the decision "especially gratifying," noting that the length and nature of Demjanjuk's service make him "one of the most seriously implicated Nazi persecutors to have entered the United States after the war." Rosenbaum added, "This case demonstrates that the government will continue to pursue aggressively those who assisted the Nazis in their infamous campaign of genocide."

Demjanjuk was first tried on allegations of Nazi persecution in 1981. A federal court found that Demjanjuk was "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. However, after the Israeli Supreme Court found that reasonable doubt existed as to whether Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible, he was released and returned to the United States. In 1998, Chief Judge Matia vacated the original denaturalization order, finding that the government recklessly failed to produce potentially exculpatory evidence to Demjanjuk in the original proceedings, but he authorized the government to reinstitute denaturalization proceedings if it had evidence supporting other charges against Demjanjuk.

The government filed new charges in 1999, relying in large part on evidence that had come to light following Demjanjuk's conviction in Israel, when the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the release of Nazi records that had been captured by the Soviet army. In addition to Sobibor, where 250,000 men, women, and children were murdered, Chief Judge Matia found that Demjanjuk was an armed guard at the notorious Majdanek concentration camp, where "[t]housands of Jews, Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies, and others were confined... because they were considered ‘undesirable' in the Nazi political lexicon." At least 170,000 civilians were killed at Majdanek in World War II. The Court also found that Demjanjuk was an armed guard of prisoners in the SS Death's Head Battalion at the Flossenburg concentration camp, where conditions "were inhumane, and the prisoners... were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, including forced labor and murder." During the war, some 90,000 civilians were killed at Flossenburg.

Chief Judge Matia found that Demjanjuk "has not given... any credible evidence of where he was during most of World War II," noting the Court's "inability to put any substantial credence in the contentions made by [Demjanjuk] to cast doubt on the government's case." Chief Judge Matia also observed that he "was struck by the almost complete absence of any kind of specific detail of the kind that would lend credence to his version," and specifically cited Demjanjuk's inconsistent testimony in rejecting his alibi defense. Although Demjanjuk claimed that the wartime documents naming him were not authentic, Chief Judge Matia noted that the testimony of forensic experts "is devastating to [Demjanjuk's] contentions."

Demjanjuk is the 67th Nazi persecutor to be denaturalized since the Office of Special Investigations began operations in 1979. Fifty-four such individuals have been removed from the United States. Additionally, 164 Nazi persecutors who sought to enter the United States in recent years have been turned away at U.S. airports and border crossings as a result of OSI's "watchlist" program. Nearly 200 persons are currently under investigation by the Department of Justice unit.



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Supplemental Opinion