In a way, it seems almost fitting that former concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk is on the verge of being extradited to Germany as this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day begins. Demjanjuk is being extradited from the USA to stand trial in Germany for his part in one of Mankind’s most horrendous acts of cruelty in modern times. Demjanjuk, now nearly 90, had originally been extradited to Israel where he had been convicted and sentenced to death for his role as the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka concentration Camp where nearly a million Jews and others were killed during WWII. Demjanjuk had been living quietly in Cleveland Ohio for years since coming to the USA in 1953 from his native Ukraine.
He was freed from Israel after new evidence shed a reasonable doubt that he was indeed the notorious Treblinka camp guard who was personally said to have killed many inmates himself in various cruel ways. His arrival back in the US was centered in controversy, and many people sought ways to have him deported to some other country, such as Poland or the Ukraine. But no one wanted him; even the country of his birth.
New evidence secured in (of all places) Germany implicates Demjanjuk as being a guard at a much smaller camp, Sobibor, in southeastern Poland, where more than 200,000 people are said to have been killed, at least 29,000 during Demjanjuk’s duty tenure. Demjanjuk’s son, John Jr., was quoted as saying that he and his family “will do everything possible” to prevent “this cruel and inhumane punishment” from happening to his father, who is now in a very bad state of health.
Cruel and inhumane punishment, eh? Many people, especially those surviving Holocaust victims who still remember this man, may be remembering how he expressed his “humanity” to camp inmates he was in charge of – especially those as old and as feeble as he is now. Would he have been as concerned for their welfare as Demjanjuk’s family are concerned about him now? Concentration camp survivors, many of whom are well into their 80’s (as Demjanjuk is) still have nightmares concerning the horrors they experienced during their incarceration in a number of death or forced labor camps, including those as notorious as Auschwitz –Birkenau, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and others. Perhaps any “compassion” Demjanjuk may have shown to his charges was to kill them quickly, and not torture and humiliate them as he has been accused of doing.
Holocaust Remembrance Day 2009 is being commemorated as usual with ceremonies and events to remember the more than 6,000,000 Jews who were slaughtered between 1938 and 1945. But few will shed a tear for this man, Ivan John Demjanjuk; especially the few remaining camp survivors who had the “distinction” of knowing him personally.