On Good Friday, John Demjanjuk, 89 and gravely ill, was ordered deported to Germany to stand trial as an accessory to the murder of 29,000 Jews -- at Sobibor camp in Poland.
Sound familiar? It should. It is a re-enactment of the 1986 extradition of John Demjanjuk to Israel to be tried for the murder of 870,000 Jews -- at Treblinka camp in Poland.
How many men in the history of this country have been so relentlessly pursued and remorselessly persecuted?
The ordeal of this American Dreyfus began 30 years ago.
In 1979, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) at Justice, goaded and guided by Yuri Andropov's KGB, was persuaded that Demjanjuk was "Ivan the Terrible," a huge, brutal, sadistic guard at Treblinka, who bashed in babies' heads and slashed off women's breasts, as he drove hundreds of thousands of Jews into the gas chambers.
Demjanjuk's defense was simple: I was never at Treblinka.
Yet, a dozen survivors, shown a photo spread, identified him as the beast of Treblinka. In 1986, OSI had him extradited to Israel. In 1988, he was convicted and sentenced to death. The greatest Holocaust monster since Mengele was to be hanged.
His family, friends and lawyers did not give up. They scoured Europe and, in the last days of the Soviet Union, struck pay dirt. In Moscow's files on Treblinka they discovered a photo of the real "Ivan," a far bigger, more mature man than the 23-year-old Demjanjuk in 1943.
Ivan Marchenko was positively identified as Ivan the Terrible.
To its eternal credit, Israel's Supreme Court threw aside the verdict and stopped Demjanjuk from being the first man hanged in Jerusalem since Adolf Eichmann in 1961.
A humiliated OSI, through its Israeli friends, now asked the court to authorize a new trial, charging Demjanjuk with having been a guard at Sobibor -- during the same time they previously charged he had been at Treblinka.
What OSI was admitting was that its case against Demjanjuk, to see him hang from the gallows as "Ivan the Terrible," had been based on flimsy or falsified evidence and worthless or perjured testimony.
Replied the court, we don't do double jeopardy here in Israel.
Demjanjuk was released. And the grin of the jailer who opened his cell testified that many in Israel never accepted the charge that this simple man was some unrivaled devil of the Holocaust.
So, after 13 years, the last four on death row reflecting on his hanging for horrors he never committed, Demjanjuk came home to Cleveland, a free man. His citizenship was restored.
Though disgraced, OSI was not ready to throw in its hand. For it had been dealt a new card by its old comrades in the KGB.
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