Now that feds can deport alleged death camp guard, they need a taker
CLEVELAND — The Justice Department may have a difficult time finding a country willing to take an Ohio man whose citizenship was revoked based on evidence he was a Nazi guard during World War II.
In a legal battle that has spanned nearly 31 years, the government’s task now is to fulfill a deportation order against John Demjanjuk, a former factory worker living with his wife, Vera, in their modest home in the Cleveland suburb Seven Hills, where they keep a no trespassing sign in the front yard.
“I cannot imagine any civilized country willing to inherit the legal cesspool that has produced the result Mr. Demjanjuk, at 88 years old, is now facing,” said Edward Nishnic, Demjanjuk’s former son-in-law and a longtime spokesman for Demjanjuk.
On May 19, the Supreme Court chose not to consider Demjanjuk’s appeal of deportation. His lawyer, John Broadley, said there is nothing preventing the United States from deporting him. He did not know how soon or if that may happen.
“At this point, I am not aware of any country that has stated its willingness to accept John Demjanjuk, and until there is a country willing to take him he will remain at home in the United States,” said Jonathan Drimmer, a former Justice Department trial attorney who was involved in getting Demjanjuk’s citizenship revoked for a second time in 2002.
Drimmer, now partner in a Washington law firm and an adjunct professor at Georgetown, where he teaches war crimes prosecution, is still a close observer of the Demjanjuk case.
He said the three nations an immigration judge identified as places Demjanjuk could be sent — Ukraine, Poland or Germany — aren’t likely to want him either as a resident or for a war crimes trial. Demjanjuk is a native Ukrainian.
Ukraine had offered entry to Demjanjuk in 1993 after Israel’s Supreme Court overturned a conviction and death sentence, allowing Demjanjuk to return to the United States.
“For Ukraine there is no upside to offering John Demjanjuk a visa now,” Drimmer said. “There would be pressures on Ukraine to try him. It would be a controversial decision to allow him in.”
Demjanjuk had been extradited to Israel in 1986 when the Justice Department believed he was the sadistic Nazi guard Ivan the Terrible of the Treblinka death camp in Poland. The Israel high court freed him after receiving evidence another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard.
Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship was restored in 1998, but the Justice Department renewed its case, saying he was another Nazi guard.
The Justice Department intends to remove him, said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which oversees cases against Nazi collaborators. He declined to say what countries have been contacted and whether any have responded.
“We’re working on it with our counterparts abroad,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is working with the Justice and State departments to remove Demjanjuk from the country, ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said Wednesday.
Embassies in the United States for Ukraine and Germany did not respond to e-mail or telephone calls asking if those nations have been contacted about willingness to receive Demjanjuk.
Pawel Maciag, spokesman for Poland’s embassy, would not say whether the U.S government has contacted Poland. “According to our knowledge, Demjanjuk has never been a citizen of Poland and therefore cannot be deported to Poland on that basis,” he said.
David Leopold, an immigration lawyer in Cleveland not involved with the Demjanjuk case, said deportation should not be difficult for the government to achieve if the United States has a treaty with a country allowing the return of someone from there.
But Ukraine was not an independent nation when Demjanjuk was there before the war, raising the possibility it could reject him, and he isn’t Polish or German.
ICE, an investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, would have to iron out the details, Leopold said.
“If ICE cannot secure travel documents to remove him, it’s possible he could remain in the U.S. under supervision,” Leopold said.
John Quigley, a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University who has written about genocide and international law issues, said generally a person’s age and past could play into a country’s willingness to accept someone being deported.
Meanwhile, some in the Ukrainian community in the Cleveland area believe in Demjanjuk’s innocence, or at least see him as a person who was caught in horrors during World War II at a young age and before that, in 1933, suffered when millions in Ukraine died in famine under Stalin’s regime.
So might Ukraine take him back?
“Probably not. That would open up old wounds,” said the Rev. John Nakonachny, pastor at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the congregation Demjanjuk has long attended near his home.
Drimmer has no sympathy for Demjanjuk’s troubled early life in the Ukraine, nor his long claim that he is a victim of mistaken identity who never served the Nazis.
“No way,” Drimmer said. “There’s absolutely no way. The evidence against him is overwhelming and powerful, and it leaves no doubt that he is a man who served the Nazis from 1942 through 1944.”
Demjanjuk did not respond to two letters from the Associated Press requesting an interview. His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., has denied media access to his parents.