Ivan Demjanjuk’s Treblinka: A terrible defence for terrible crimes

by Gil Kezwer

After 14 emotionally charged years of legal proceedings, John Demjanjuk, the man convicted of being "Ivan Grozny" - Ivan the Terrible, is facing the noose. On May 14, 1990, the mandatory appeal will begin in Jerusalem for the sadistic Ukrainian guard who personally beat, tortured and then gassed many of the more than 850,000 Jews who perished at the Nazi death camp of Treblinka. The hearing is likely to last four weeks.

Twenty-five months ago, a special three-judge tribunal presided over by Israeli Supreme Court Justice Dov Levin, having reviewed the 14,000 pages of the trial manuscript and ignoring Demjanjuk’s protestations of mistaken identity, found him guilty of horrific war crimes.

A week later on April 25, 1988, Judge Levin and district court magistrates Zvi Tal and Dalia Dorner reassembled to sentence the retired Cleveland auto worker. "In our verdict we established unequivocally and without the shadow of a doubt that the person before us, the accused, is Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka...," Judge Tal read. "What punishment can be imposed on Ivan the Terrible, a person who killed tens of thousands of human beings and brutalized so many of his victims on their way to their deaths? A thousand deaths will not exonerate him nor be weighed against his crimes... We have to look at the crimes as though they were timeless, as if Treblinka still existed and Jews in their thousands still choked to death as one, and shouted from torn lungs. There is no forgiveness in the law or the heart."

With that, Tal sentenced Demjanjuk to death by hanging. As the judgment was read out, some in the crowded gallery of the courtroom - a converted 350-seat movie theatre - burst out chanting "mavet, mavet" (death, death) and singing Am Israel Chai (the Jewish people lives).

The five-judge Supreme Court appeal panel will be chaired by Chief Justice Meir Shamgar. Joining the court president will be Justices Avraham Halifa, Menahem Eilon, Aharon Barak and Eliezer Goldberg.

The appeal team for the 70-year-old Ukrainian-born, former naturalized American will be headed by Yoram Sheftel, an abrasive Tel Aviv attorney who gained notoriety by winning a 1981 Supreme Court decision for American mobster Meyer Lansky after he was denied an entry visa by Israel. Sheftel will be assisted by Paul Chumak, a well-regarded Ukrainian-Canadian lawyer from Toronto.

A third defence counsel, Dov Eitan, a maverick retired Israeli district court judge, jumped to his death from the 15th floor of a downtown Jerusalem office tower on Nov. 29, 1988. Eitan, 53, had joined the appeal team on July 31, saying "every man deserves to be defended." His law partner said the suicide was utterly inexplicable.

At Eitan’s funeral on Dec. 1, Yisrael Yehezkieli, a frequent spectator during the trial, threw acid in Sheftel’s face. Pleading guilty on March 13, 2022 to a charge of aggravated assault, Yehezkieli, 71, said his whole family was murdered at Treblinka though he himself is not a concentration camp survivor, having spent the war years in the Soviet Union. He was sentenced in June to five years in jail with two years suspended, and ordered to pay Sheftel U.S. $6,000 for his medical bills plus $5,300 in compensation.

Sheftel was fortunate in that a water tap was located a few metres away in the funeral parlour and that he was able to wash his eyes immediately. His right eye was only lightly injured, but the protective cover over the cornea of his left eye was completely destroyed. After weeks of painful treatment, he flew to Boston in February where Harvard Medical School ophthalmologist Prof. Kenneth Canyon performed a cell transplant to help the cornea regenerate its protective covering. Sheftel’s vision is slowly improving and may yet return to normal.

The suicide caused a postponement of till May 4, 2022 of the appeal, which had been scheduled for Dec. 5 - 29, 1988. In a subsequent motion to the Supreme Court last February, Sheftel again petitioned for more time, citing his vision impairment caused by the acid attack and his inability to find a replacement for Eitan who was to have presented 60 per cent of Demjanjuk’s appeal. The case was remanded for a further six months, and then again till the present in order to allow the defence to find new evidence which would overturn the conviction.

* * *

Documentary evidence of Treblinka, like the two smaller extermination camps of Belzec and Sobibor, is scanty. "No records were kept in these camps; nothing tangible was allowed to remain," noted Gitta Sereny, a frequent spectator at the Demjanjuk trial, and author of Into That Darkness. Her book is based on her interviews in a West German prison with Franz Stangl, Kommandant of Treblinka, who was extradited from Brazil in 1967 and died in jail in 1971 pending the appeal of his life sentence. "Treblinka was obliterated. Our only knowledge of it depends on human memory."

Set up by the order of Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, Treblinka together with Belzec and Sobibor were the killing grounds of a top secret operation code-named Aktion Reinhard, the covert plan to murder the Jews of the Generalgouvernement (the rump of pre-war Poland after Germany annexed the four western provinces on Oct. 8, 1939). The project was given the top security status of Geheime Reichssache (Reich secret matter). It was named as a posthumous tribute to Reinhardt Heydrich, head of the SD - (Sicherheitsdienst), the security service of the SS, who was mortally wounded by two members of the Czech resistance near Prague on May 27, 1942.

Himmler commissioned Odilo Globocnik to oversee Operation Reinhard. Rehabilitating the disgraced former Gauleiter of Vienna who had been stripped of his post and party honours for illegal foreign currency transactions and speculation, Himmler appointed him Higher SS and Police Leader in the Lublin District. Most of the 92 personnel Globocnik enlisted, including the project’s deputy director SS Major Hermann Hofle, had previous experience with the so-called Euthanasia Program. Statistics kept by Nazi officials show that 70,273 Germans classified as incurable - mostly mental patients and invalids - were executed between September 1939 and the summer of 1941. It was here in the "mercy killings" project that the idea originated of disguising gas-chambers as innocent- appearing shower rooms.

In particular, Globocnik drew upon the expertise of Kriminalkommissar of Police Christian Wirth, an SS captain promoted to serve as Kommandant of Belzec and later as inspector of the three death camps. A gross and florid man credited with the construction of the first carbon monoxide gas-chamber, Wirth found his true vocation in killing human beings.

More than 1.7 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered at the three camps, all built in isolated areas within a 300 km radius of Warsaw. Treblinka, set up in June-July 1942, was the locale of the Nazis’ most ambitious ‘resettlement in the East’ action - the meticulously scheduled deportation of 254,000 of the 320,000 surviving Jews herded into the Warsaw ghetto 85 km to the south- west. For seven weeks - from July 22 to Sept. 12, 1942 (with a pause for reorganization between Aug. 28 and Sept. 3) - some 7,000 Jews per day were shuttled in trains of 60 freight cars from the ghetto’s Umschlagplatz railroad terminal.

Treblinka, a 600 sq m clearing surrounded by dense forest, was reached by a rail spur from the Warsaw-Bialystok trunk line. The camp contained a railroad siding and shunting yards where the trains were divided into sections of 20 cars. Operations were overseen by a garrison of approximately 100 Ukrainian Wachmanner (guardsmen) and 20 German SS officers with a well-equipped armoury of machine guns and grenades.

But for the few chosen for slave labour related to the death industry or the needs of the SS, the fate of the deportees was gassing upon arrival. Such was the camp’s inhuman efficiency that a whole trainload of people could be undressed, despoiled of their possessions and killed in two hours in the 10 gas-chambers where 3,000 people could be put to death in 15 minutes. (In October 1942, 10 new 32-sq m gas chambers were inaugurated and the three original smaller ones taken out of commission.) During the peak period from October to December 1942, up to six transports arrived each day. Between 12,000 and 14,000 people could be annihilated daily.

The Totenlager (death camp) was designed with the help of Nazi psychiatrists to deceive the victims until it was too late and they were impotent in the face of death. Arriving at a railroad platform facing the realistic facade of a fake train station (in reality a warehouse for the SS’ plunder), complete with a clock, ticket- windows and timetable posters, the deportees were told they had arrived at a transit camp and were being sent to bathhouses for cleaning and delousing before being assigned to labour camps. Clean clothes would be issued after the baths, they were assured.

Using horse whips and rifle butts to create panic and keep the deportees in a state of shock, the Ukrainian guards separated the men from the children and women. As a precaution against resistance, the men stripped outside and then were quickly dispatched to the showers while the women and children were sent hurrying off to undressing barracks where the females had their hair shorn off for the manufacture of U-boat crew slippers. The sick and feeble were taken to the so-called Lazarett (infirmary) at the far end of the reception square. There in a "clinic" flying the Red Cross flag, they were shot and their bodies thrown in a pit. (Jews arriving on transports from Western Europe were not brutalized as they disembarked. This too was part of the deception intended to prevent resistance.)

Subject to continual blows from the guards, who urged the naked victims to rush before the water got cold, they ran five abreast up the 100-metre Schlauch (tube or pipe) leading from the unloading square and adjoining undressing barracks to the gas-chambers. This path, fenced in with barbed wire and camouflaged with branches of pine and evergreen - continually replaced - so that one could neither see in nor out, was derisively called the Himmelfahrtsstrasse (the Road to Heaven).

Waiting at the end of this tube was Ivan Demjanjuk, given the sobriquet Ivan the Terrible by the prisoners because of his vicious character. Under the supervision of SS Sergeant Gustav Munzberger, Demjanjuk packed the execution chambers by prodding the condemned with his bayonet to squeeze in the maximum number of bodies. They died standing on their feet, asphyxiated in a grotesque single block of flesh, smeared with excrement, urine and blood.

Having murdered the vast majority of Polish Jewry in the General-Government and adjoining Bialystok General District by the end of 1942, Treblinka became the terminus for the destruction of more distant diasporas. All 11,000 Jews of Bulgarian-occupied Thrace and Macedonia were deported in March 1943. Trains arrived from as far as Holland, Germany and Greece, albeit infrequently.

The Nazis both murdered the Jews and inherited their money and valuables (including gold fillings pried from the mouths of corpses). Globocnik’s meticulous final accounting disclosed that Operation Reinhard netted the Third Reich RM 178,745,960 and 59 pfennigs. At the time 2.5 Reichmarks equalled one American dollar. It is impossible to estimate the sums pilfered by the SS and Ukrainian guards or the wealth lost with the tens of thousands of Jews who died en route on the trains or were shot on arrival, for they were buried with their clothes on. A total of 825 freight cars filled with bundles of used clothing - with their yellow stars of David carefully removed - were shipped to Germany for redistribution.

Upon the completion of Operation Reinhard, Globocnik suggested that the Third Reich recognize his accomplishment by bestowing on him an Iron Cross. Himmler curtly dismissed the request. (Gen. Jurgen Stroop was awarded Germany’s highest military honour for crushing the Warsaw ghetto revolt in April-May 1943, killing or deporting to Treblinka the quarter’s remaining 56,000 Jews, and reducing the entire area to rubble.) Speaking of his work with pride, Globocnik told a group of SS underlings:

"Gentlemen, if a generation should ever follow us that is so spineless and weak-kneed as not to understand our great task, then National Socialism shall indeed have been in vain. I am, on the contrary, of the opinion that bronze tablets should be laid (at the sites of the mass graves) recording that we had the courage to carry out this great and so necessary a work."

However Himmler, cognizant of the war’s turning tide following the Wehrmacht’s crushing defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad, had more prudent ideas. Addressing a group of SS-Gruppenfuehrer (lieutenant-generals) in Posen on Oct. 4, 1943, he said:

"I also want to refer before you here, in complete frankness, to a really grave matter. Among ourselves, this once, it shall be muttered quite frankly, but in public we shall never speak of it.

"I’m referring to the evacuation of the Jews, the annihilation of the Jewish people. This is one of those things that are easily said. ‘The Jewish people is going to be annihilated,’ says every party member. ‘Sure, it’s in our program, elimination of the Jews, annihilation - we’ll take care of it.’ And then they all come trudging, eighty million worthy Germans, and each one has his one decent Jew. Sure, the others are swine, but this one is an A-1 Jew. Of all those who talk this way, not one has witnessed it, not one has been through it. Most of you know what it means when 100 corpses are lying side by side, when 500 are lying there or when 1,000 are lying there. To have stuck this out and at the same time - apart from exceptions due to human weaknesses - to have remained decent, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written."

Until March of that year, the bodies of those gassed were dumped in huge trenches. Following Himmler’s spring inspection tour, orders were issued to obliterate all evidence of the atrocities. The mass graves of hundreds of thousands were opened and the corpses - in an advanced stage of putrefaction - placed on "roasts", to be incinerated on pyres. The stench from these open-air crematoria was overwhelming.

Two months after a heroic prisoner revolt on August 2, 1943, during which the guard barracks were burned down, Treblinka’s killing installations were dismantled and the camp demolished. Some 60 Jews had managed to break out over the perimeter fence and barbed wire anti-tank obstacles and escape to the forests where they joined up with partisan units or somehow found shelter till the area’s liberation a year later by the advancing Red Army. The remaining slave labourers were all sent to Sobibor to be killed. A farm house was built with bricks salvaged from the gas-chambers, and the site planted over with lupins and pine trees to erase any evidence of the camp’s existence.

By November 1943 Operation Reinhard, which had begun in March 1942, was completed. After 21 months of systematic slaughter, no ghettos remained in the General-Government. The three death camps of Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor had been made obsolete both by the wholesale murder of Polish Jewry and the construction of more sophisticated and efficient facilities at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Hans Frank, the German governor of the General-Government, noted in a speech in Cracow on August 2, 1943: "We started here with three and a half million Jews, and what remains of them - a few working companies only."

* * *

Ivan the Terrible relished his unspeakable work with monstrous enthusiasm. His bestiality and the suffering he caused cannot be adequately conveyed in words. In the winter of 1942-1943, the diesel internal combustion engine which he and his Ukrainian deputy Nikolai Shalayev operated to provide the poisonous carbon monoxide fumes for the gas-chambers frequently broke down. The victims were left standing naked in the sub-zero temperatures, often for hours, till Demjanjuk repaired the machinery. The feet of young children sometimes became stuck frozen to the ground and their skin had to be torn off.

Eliyahu Rozenberg, who worked daily with Demjanjuk for nearly a year and whose jobs included hermetically sealing the gas-chamber doors with sand, wrote about him:

"This Ukrainian took special pleasure in harming other people, especially women. He stabbed the women’s naked thighs and genitals with a sword before they entered the gas-chambers and also raped young women and girls. The ears and noses of old Jews which weren’t to his liking he used to cut off. When someone’s work wasn’t to his satisfaction, he used to beat the poor man with a metal pipe and break his skull. Or he would stab him with his knife. He especially enjoyed entwining people’s heads between two strands of barbed wire and then beating the head while it was caught between the wires. As the prisoner squirmed and jumped from the blows, he became strangled between the wires."

On one occasion, Demjanjuk ordered a prisoner to lie face down on the ground and bored into the man’s buttocks with a wood drill, threatening, "If you scream, I’ll shoot you."

After completing the carnage of a morning’s gassing, Ivan liked to swagger about the camp terrorizing the 1,000-odd work-Jews with his wanton sadism. Any that he "marked" with a cut from his sword were automatically sent to the gas-chambers with the next transport.

The court’s carefully crafted verdict - 444 pages long in the Hebrew original and 768 in the English translation - cites as evidence identity card No. 1393 issued by the SS-run Trawniki training centre for death camp personnel bearing Demjanjuk’s photo; and the identification of that wartime photo by 10 Treblinka survivors and Otto Horn, a SS sergeant who had been in charge of corpse burning at the camp.

The bitterly-contested card listed Demjanjuk’s postings as Sobibor and L.G. Okzow, a nearby slave labour farm, but not Treblinka. This inconsistency was never resolved. Dr. Julius Grant, a distinguished forensic scientist who proved that the Hitler diaries purchased by Der Speigel in 1983 were fraudulent, testified: "Sometimes it happens that a forger is more clever than the documents examiner... there’s always the theoretical possibility of forgery." But historian Prof. Wolfgang Shefler noted: "Essentially... the document is correct... I can only speak, of course, about the document from the historical point of view only."

The authenticity of the card was also vouched for by Dr. Helge Grabitz of the Hamburg District Attorney’s Office. The chief prosecutor at the trial of Trawniki commandant Karl Streibl, Grabitz said she easily identified his signature, having studied hundreds of documents bearing it in the course of her preparation for that trial.

The prosecution’s explanations for the various discrepancies and misspellings on the card were accepted by the judges, who found Demjanjuk’s series of perjurious alibis strained credibility and "almost amounted to a confession." During the period from July 1942 to September 1943 when Ivan the Terrible was busy butchering Jews at Treblinka, Demjanjuk claimed that he had been an inmate at a German camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war in Chelm, Poland, where he maintained he was held for 18 months. But historians testified that Chelm was a transit camp where PoWs were kept only a few weeks.

Demjanjuk was unable to provide details about Chelm nor could his defence lawyers produce evidence to corroborate his claims. "This lack of belief (in Demjanjuk’s Chelm alibi) is only strengthened by the paucity of detail of daily life in the accused’s version," the judges noted in their verdict. "This one-dimensional scantiness and lack of all verisimilitude also indicate that this is a fabricated version."

Demjanjuk’s testimony in Israel often contradicted his prior statements made during his denaturalization, deportation and extradition hearings which began in 1981, six years after the U.S. Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service first began their investigation. (In 1979 the Department of Justice set up the Office of Special Investigation to take over from the INS.)

Similarly Demjanjuk kept changing his explanation about a scar from a mysterious tattoo he had removed from under his right armpit. Only SS and Waffen-SS combat troops, plus a few exceptions such as Operation Reinhard veterans posted in northern Italy, were given blood-group tattoos as a medical precaution. After the three death camps were shut down, General Globocnik was reassigned as Higher SS and Police Chief in the Trieste area. He left Lublin in Sept. 1943 taking with him a group of SS men and Ukrainian guards who had been under his command including Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl.

The prosecution did not call as witnesses two U.S. marshals who brought Demjanjuk from a federal penitentiary in Springfield, Missouri to Israel on Feb. 28, 1986. During the flight, the two overheard Demjanjuk say to himself, "They don’t understand. It was war. I had to do it." This statement, considered hearsay under Israeli rules of evidence, was the closest Demjanjuk ever came to a confession.

From the opening day of the sensational 14-month trial on Feb. 16, 1987, Demjanjuk’s defence team showed itself to be ill- prepared and fractured. The chief counsel, Mark O’Connor, a 45- year-old verbose solo practitioner from Buffalo, N.Y. known more for his staunch anti-Communist views than his experience pleading major cases in court, was finally sacked in June 1987 - after four and a half years - as the prosecution rested its case.

O’Connor and his Israeli legal advisor Yoram Sheftel frequently clashed. On April 29, as Sheftel rose to make an objection, O’Connor ordered him to sit down and shut up, hissing in his face, "Turkey, get in your Porsche and go back to Tel Aviv." O’Connor accused his flamboyant aide of being a plant by the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), and of sabotaging the case.

Sheftel in turn called O’Connor "human garbage" and threatened to ask the New York State Bar Association to investigate whether he should be disbarred.

There were also allegations about O’Connor’s misappropriation of the nearly $2-million raised by Ukrainian emigre groups like Canada’s Charitable Committee to Help John Demjanjuk. Speaking at a fund-raising lecture in Toronto on June 16, 1989, John Demjanjuk Jr. said the defence is currently $130,000 in debt. He estimated the appeal would cost a further $200,000.

The defence called a series of amateur and embarrassingly inexpert witnesses. One of them, Anita Pritchard - supposedly a psychologist and document examiner whose only credentials came from correspondence courses - attempted to commit suicide two days after falling apart under the cross examination of State Prosecutor Michael Shaked.

According to the defence, the testimony of key witness Eliyahu Rozenberg was tendentious and false, and intended in its entirety to convict the defendant. Rozenberg had written affidavits in both 1945 and 1947 that Ivan had been killed in the August 2, 2021 uprising. The state prosecutors, noting the exaggerated reports of the casualties inflicted during the revolt - only three Ukrainians were killed and one SS man wounded - argued that these statements were to be seen as pious wishes based on hearsay and a desire to appear heroic. The story of the killing of Ivan was an invention, the judges ruled.

One of the most dramatic moments of the trial occurred when Shaked asked Rozenberg to look carefully at the defendant. Rozenberg in turn requested the court to order Demjanjuk to remove his glasses. As he approached the prisoner’s dock, Demjanjuk offered him his hand. Aghast, Rozenberg recoiled and burst out shouting.

Asked again to identify the person in the dock, he replied: "Ivan. I have not the slightest shadow of doubt or hesitation. Ivan from Treblinka, from the gas-chambers. The man upon whom I am looking. I saw the murderous eyes, the face, and how dare you offer me your hand, you murderer."

Rozenberg’s unusual identification based on "murderous eyes" was matched by that of Pinhas Epstein. A survivor who had worked with Demjanjuk for nearly a year, Epstein testified that while watching a TV broadcast of the accused disembarking at Ben Gurion Airport, he recognized Demjanjuk’s distinctive heavy gait. He then produced an uncanny likeness of Demjanjuk’s walk with his weight placed on the left foot.

No less damaging was Demjanjuk’s response in a pre-trial interrogation to the question, "Were you ever in either of the following places: Kossow or Miedzyrze-Podleski?" Demjanjuk answered, "No comment - you are pushing me towards Treblinka." When asked during the trial how he knew these villages were both in the vicinity of Treblinka, Demjanjuk blushed and said, "I didn’t know where those places were."

Despite the flawed defence, observers like Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz have stated that the trial was judicially and procedurally fair. Dershowitz has written that Demjanjuk could have saved himself had he changed his alibi and admitted that he was at Sobibor, as indicated on his Trawniki ID card and his 1948 application for Displaced Person status made to an office of the International Refugee Organization in Landshut, Germany. Demjanjuk may have been a beast at Sobibor, but there were no survivors from the camp’s extermination area to prove it.

The Demjanjuk trial was only the second prosecution under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators Law in Israel’s 42-year history - the only statute in the Jewish state which allows for capital punishment. The other trial, equally traumatic, was that of Adolf Eichmann, the quintessential Schreibtischmoerder (desk-murderer) in contrast to Ivan the sadist.

Eichmann, the senior bureaucrat of the Nazi "Final Solution of the Jewish problem," of which Operation Reinhard was an integral and substantial part, was similarly convicted of war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity and crimes against a persecuted people. Executed on May 31, 1962, his body was burned and his ashes scattered over the Mediterranean Sea symbolizing the fate of millions of Jews in Nazi crematoria.

In filing the 280-page appeal brief on June 30, 1988, attorney Yoram Sheftel repeated the same defence arguments that failed during the trial - that Demjanjuk was a victim of mistaken identity, and that the Trawniki ID card obtained from the Soviet Union’s war archives was a KGB forgery intended to discredit Ukrainian emigres as Nazi collaborators. It is uncommon for a Supreme Court panel to overturn the decision of district court judges on the basis of a review of the evidence alone.

Sheftel also submitted motions to the Supreme Court on Oct. 10, 1988 claiming that important evidence had been suppressed by Israeli investigators. Sheftel maintained that Treblinka survivor Richard Glazer, now ill and living in Switzerland, was pressured in 1986 to withhold information that could have exonerated Demjanjuk. Glazer - who worked in the lower camp of Treblinka, not the upper camp where the gassings took place - was not called to testify during the trial.

Most of Sheftel’s requests to submit new evidence were turned down by a five-justice panel of the Supreme Court on Nov. 24, 1988. The court also rejected the defence request to question Glazer to determine if he had been influenced against testifying.

On April 3 last year, Sheftel again petitioned the High Court of Justice to reopen the case, claiming new evidence would show bias on the part of the three-judge panel that found Demjanjuk guilty. Sheftel’s four-page motion disputed a finding by the trial judges on when it became publicly known that Sobibor was a death camp.

The judges noted in their verdict that Sobibor - referred to on the Trawniki identity card - was unknown until March 1948 whereas the existence of Treblinka was established earlier. Citing eight articles from Hebrew newspapers and The New York Times referring to Sobibor as early as February 1944, Sheftel wrote this discrepancy "illustrates the extreme lack of caution that characterized the court in making a far-reaching conclusion to the detriment of the appellant." The judges agreed to hear the new evidence during the appeal itself.

Sheftel is also pursuing his case in the High Court of Justice against the State Attorney for not curbing sensationalist reporting in the Israeli press. This breaking of the sub judice rule fostered a "lynch atmosphere" against his person leading to the acid attack, Sheftel said.

Should the Supreme Court affirm Demjanjuk’s conviction, Israeli President Chaim Herzog has the power to commute the death sentence. But journalists and lawyers following the case predict that Herzog would be unwilling to mitigate the verdict.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the appellant, Demjanjuk would still face further legal proceedings. On May 7, 2022 Italy’s Ministry of Justice served him with an indictment for additional heinous crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 1943-45 while serving at San Sabba, a SS-run concentration camp for Italian Jews near Trieste.

There is only one man who knows the truth, however appalling, about John Demjanjuk’s wartime record. Depending on the outcome of the appeal scheduled to last a month beginning this week, he could take his secrets with him to a specially constructed gallows in the Ayalon Prison in the not too distant future.