Department of Justice Seal Department of Justice
FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2004
(202) 514-2008
TDD (202) 514-1888


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray of the Criminal Division announced today that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously held that the Government proved “through clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence” that John Demjanjuk was a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp and at the Majdanek and Flossenbürg concentration camps, and a member of the SS-run Trawniki unit “dedicated to exploiting and exterminating” Jews in Poland.

As a Sobibor guard, Demjanjuk, a retired Cleveland auto-worker, 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. The court’s decision affirms a 2002 federal District Court ruling stripping Demjanjuk of his U.S. citizenship.

“We are pleased with today’s Sixth Circuit ruling and the important principles it upholds,” Assistant Attorney General Wray said. “Those, like Demjanjuk, who participated in Nazi atrocities do not belong in this country. We will take all appropriate steps to make sure that these individuals do not enjoy the privileges of U.S. citizenship.”

Eli M. Rosenbaum, Director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI), which brought the case with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland, said, “The court’s decision sends a powerful message to every participant in the ghastly Nazi campaign of genocide who is still living in this country: the government will not waiver in its determination to find you, prosecute you, and remove you from the United States.”

Gregory A. White, United States Attorney in Cleveland, noted, “Demjanjuk is one of the most seriously implicated Nazi persecutors to be found in the United States, and the court’s decision is a critical step in the government’s effort to secure a measure of justice in this case.”

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. 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 Paul R. Matia of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, vacated the original denaturalization order, finding that the government recklessly failed to produce potentially exculpatory evidence to Demjanjuk in the original proceedings. Chief Judge Matia 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 made available to investigators Nazi records that had been captured by the Soviet army. In 2002, Chief Judge Matia found that Demjanjuk was a “willing” armed guard at Sobibor, where 250,000 men, women, and children were murdered; at the notorious Majdanek concentration camp, where at least 170,000 civilians died; at the Flossenburg concentration camp, where some 90,000 civilians perished; and a member of a unit trained at the infamous Trawniki-training camp to implement Operation Reinhard, the Nazi program to dispossess, exploit, and murder Jews in Poland. Judge Matia specifically found that at Sobibor Demjanjuk participated in “the process by which thousands of Jews were murdered by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide” in the camp’s gas chambers.

In affirming that decision, the Court of Appeals stated that Demjanjuk was identified by seven Nazi-created wartime documents, three of which bear his name, birth date, and birthplace. One of those documents, a Nazi service identity pass, has his “photograph, nationality, father’s name, facial shape, eye color, hair color, and reference to an identifiable scar on [his] back.” The court noted that although Demjanjuk “tries to raise doubt as to the identity of the person on the service pass... he offers no evidence to support his assertion.” Based on the evidence against Demjanjuk, the appeals court held that Demjanjuk “was not legally eligible to obtain his citizenship” and affirmed the district court’s denaturalization order. The appeal was argued by OSI Deputy Director Jonathan C. Drimmer.

The case is part of OSI's ongoing efforts to identify U.S. citizens and residents who assisted in Axis-sponsored acts of persecution. Since OSI began operations in 1979, it has won cases against 94 individuals who assisted in Nazi persecution. In addition, 170 individuals who sought to enter the United States in recent years have been blocked from doing so as a result of OSI's “Watch List” program, which is enforced in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security.