Losing another round in court, John Demjanjuk, the retired autoworker accused of being a Nazi concentration camp guard, may be running out of legal options in his decades-long deportation battle.
The 85-year-old man once suspected of being the notoriously brutal guard known as Ivan the Terrible has 30 days to appeal a judge’s deportation order Wednesday that would send him to his native Ukraine.
Chief U.S. Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ruled that there was no evidence to substantiate Demjanjuk’s claim that he would be tortured if deported to his homeland. He said Demjanjuk should be deported to Germany or Poland if Ukraine does not accept him.
Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said the judge’s decision “brings the government one step closer” to removing Demjanjuk from the United States.
An official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based Jewish group dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, said the ruling was important to resolving the case.
“Justice in this case is long delayed,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center. “No one should confuse anything happening to John Demjanjuk as anything but justice. It’s not vengeance.”
Citizenship revoked in 2002
Demjanjuk, who came to the United States in 1952, lost his U.S. citizenship after a judge ruled in 2002 that documents from World War II prove he was a Nazi guard at various death or forced labor camps.
His attorney had argued at a hearing last month that sending Demjanjuk back to Ukraine would be like throwing him “into a shark tank.”
John Broadley, Demjanjuk’s lawyer, said the ruling is the judge’s final order in the case. It was required before Creppy’s June ruling, which authorized the government to deport Demjanjuk, could be appealed.
Broadley said Demjanjuk would appeal Creppy’s earlier decision and possibly the latest ruling.
Authorities first tried to deport Demjanjuk in 1977, accusing him of being Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka concentration camp. In 1986, Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, where he was convicted and sentenced to death after a dramatic, televised trial. But after a five-year legal battle, the conviction was thrown out when the Israeli Supreme Court found in 1993 that someone else apparently was Ivan the Terrible.
Demjanjuk returned to the United States and his U.S. citizenship was restored before being lifted again.
Not Ivan, but another guard?
The current case is based on evidence uncovered by the Justice Department alleging he was a different guard. Demjanjuk has denied the allegations.
Broadley has said the U.S. government never sufficiently disavowed its previous claim that Demjanjuk was Ivan.
“We have a situation the U.S. government created, and now he still carries a blood scent of Ivan the Terrible, and this would be like throwing him with that blood scent into a shark tank,” Broadley said at the Nov. 29 hearing.
Although Ukraine police have a history of regularly beating detainees and prisoners, the country is taking steps to improve its prison conditions to meet international human rights standards so it can join NATO and the European Union, Creppy wrote, citing an opinion submitted by the U.S. State Department.
An official of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry who refused to identify herself said Thursday that the appropriate bodies have no information about the Demjanjuk case. She refused to elaborate.