“… when mercy seasons justice …”

April 5, 2009




The Los Angeles Times had a video on its site in which the son of a man accused of participating in the deaths of thousands of people in a Nazi concentration camp, argues both that his father, John Demjanjuk,  is innocent and that his father – now 89 and frail – should not be extradited. A U.S. immigration judge on Friday issued an indefinite stay of deportation based on the Demjanjuk family’s claim that making the elderly man travel from Cleveland to Germany for trial would be tantamount to torture. The stay will continue until the judge rules on the merits of the claim.

Demjanjuk has already been convicted of lying to authorities about his past as a Nazi guard, but his conviction under a charge that he was the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” of the Treblinka death camp was overturned based on evidence that identified another man as that guard.

Now he is charged with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder at the Sorbibo concentration camp in Poland. 

On the face of it, one might say that, inasmuch as he lied about his past in order to become an American citizen,  it’s tough luck for Demjanjuk if travel would be hard on him or even kill him. However, modern technology makes it unnecessary for Demjanjuk to be in Germany for the trial; he could attend through closed-circuit television or a secure webcast. Also, in spite of what is already known about his past, American justice can be true to itself only by granting him the presumption of innocence on the charges at issue. If he is sent to Germany for trial and is acquitted, and dies prematurely because he was forced to attend in person, that would be one more injustice piled on all the other unrequited injustices of the past.




 If Demjanjuk is convicted of the charges against him, he should be deported to submit to whatever sentence is imposed on him – old or not, sick or not. Both the enormity of the crimes of the Holocaust and the fact that the roots of such crimes still exist among white supremacists and anti-Semites require that everyone who participated be brought to justice. But another suitable response to such crimes, especially when guilt has not yet been determined, is to act with the quality of mercy that was absent from the Nazi mind, a quality that is the antithesis of Nazi thinking.


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