The case of Ivan Demjanjuk (2009)
 NS-crime on trial

Frank Gutermuth & Sebastian Kuhn & Wolfgang Schoen

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The case of Ivan Demjanjuk


NS-crime on trial


In our production, we endeavour to tell the unique story of the native born Ukrainian Ivan Demjanjuk. As a soldier for the red army he got into German captivity during 2nd World War, recruited by the SS and trained in the notorious camp Trawniki for the “Aktion Reinhardt“ – almost 1,5 million jews fell prey to that murdering program of the Nazis. But for many Soviet prisoners of war it seemed to be the only way of surving: 3,3 million Soviet prisoners of war  died because of the disastrous terms of condition in German camps, because of contagions and hunger. The film will not only revisit a contemporary tragedy, but also shed light on segments of judicial history with regard to the treatment of Nazi officials and collaborators.


The current event: March 11, 2009. The Munich office of public prosecutor I issues an arrest warrant against Ivan Demjanjuk, born in the Ukraine in 1920. The charge: assisted murder in the case of 29.000 Jews in the extermination campSobibor in 1943. Demjanjuk is ranked first on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s list of MOST WANTED WAR CRIMINALS. His lawyers couldn’t prevent his extradition from the USA: On  May 12, he arrived at Munich airport and was transfered to prison in Stadelheim .The last major trial of a war criminal in Germany is about to begin soon. During the past weeks, the international concern for this case has increased constantly. Up to now there is not known any single condemnation of a supposable NS-criminal in (West-) Germany because of assisted murder, even less on the level of Demjanjuk´s rank. Because of that we are going to look into the question, if Demjanjuk has become a cue ball of political interests and public authories.


Ivan Demjanjuk skillfully used the confusion during the immediate post-war period to go into hiding in the camp for displaced persons, close to Landshut in 1945. Many charged war criminals and their collaborators remained unrecognized; the allied powers were completely overburdened by the task of identifying them all. In January 1952 he was able to escape via Bremerhaven to the USA. His American citizenship was disallowed several times and in 1986 he was deported to Israel. As “Ivan the terrible” of the extermination camp Treblinka, he was sentenced to death by the court - but exculpatory evidences had been suppressed by the American “Office for special investigation” (OSI). As Israeli prosecutors detected locally new material after the collapse of the Sowiet Union, doubts on his actual identity emerged, the Israeli Supreme Court released him and he was free to return to the USA.


An awkward task for German judicature?

This question touches an essential aspect of our film. In past trials against German SS-men who were also engaged in Sobibor there were mostly acquittals for the accused persons or charges were not even pursued. After the end of the war, German justice investigated in more than 100.000 cases, but only 6500 suspected persons were convicted. After a law amendment by the German Bundestag 1968, actions by officials in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, wherefrom the holocaust was essentially planned, were time-barred. Critical voices commenting the trial against Demjanjuk become louder and ask, “freedom for the major war criminals and convictions for their aides”.



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