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Suspected Nazi's citizenship revoked

  |   Feb. 21, 2002 at 2:11 PM
CLEVELAND, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- A federal judge revoked the U.S. citizenship of John Demjanjuk, who was suspected of being the World War II Nazi concentration camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible."

U.S. District Judge Paul Matria Thursday rejected Demjanjuk's claims he was a Soviet prisoner of war.

Demjanjuk, 81, originally lost his citizenship in 1981 when U.S. District Judge Frank Battisti found that Demjanjuk was "Ivan the Terrible," a guard at the Sobibor, Majdanek and Flossenburg death camps.

The retired suburban Cleveland autoworker was then extradited to Israel where he was convicted and sentenced to death. The conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court, which cited evidence someone else was the infamous guard. He returned to the United States in 1993 and his citizenship was restored in 1998.

"Although defendant claims he was not at the camps indicated by the documentary evidence, he has not given the court any credible evidence of where he was during most of World War II after the prisoner-of-war camp at Rovno," Matria found. "... The court thoroughly reviewed his prior testimony and was struck by the almost complete absence of any specific detail of the kind that would lend credence to his version."

Matria also found Demjanjuk's testimony inconsistent when it came to dates and questioned how Demjanjuk "came to list Sobibor," where as many as 260,000 Jews died, as a place of residence when he filled out his refugee papers.

Matria called the government's evidence against Demjanjuk "unequivocal" and "convincing" and labeled Demjanjuk's evidence "not sufficiently credible to cast doubt on the documentary evidence."

At a news conference in Washington, Eli Rosenbaum, head of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, praised Matria's ruling and said the federal government will seek to deport Demjanjuk after his appeals are exhausted.

"Today, thousands of miles away from Sobibor and other Nazi camps, John Demjanjuk has been stripped of his ill-gotten U.S. citizenship after a federal trial in which the wartime misdeeds he worked so very hard to conceal were proved beyond dispute," Rosenbaum said. He described Sobibor as "as close an approximation of hell as has ever been created on this planet."

In a deposition taken about a year ago, Demjanjuk said simply: "One thing I know is that I was not there. And that's it." Under questioning, Demjanjuk repeatedly claimed a failing memory.

Demjanjuk said there were at least three other men in the Ukrainian village where he grew up with a name similar to his. His attorney, Michael Tigar, contends one of those men, perhaps his cousin, Ivan Andreievich Demjanjuk, was the concentration camp guard. The cousin committed suicide in 1970.

Matria's ruling came as a result of a finding of fact and conclusions of law rather than a trial with testimony.

"This is a case of documentary evidence, not eyewitness testimony," Matria said in his supplementary opinion. "It is not at all unusual 60 years after an event that eyewitnesses are not available. Indeed, if they were, their testimony would be subjected to close scrutiny because of the effect of time and the ravages of age upon memories and eyewitness identifications. The defendant's successful defense against the 'Ivan the Terrible' charges shows the unreliability of eye witness testimony so long after the event."

Matria based his decision on documents "retrieved from archives all over eastern Europe and Germany." He dismissed Demjanjuk's assertions of forgery, saying experts had attested to their authenticity and citing the minor inconsistencies in spellings and other data as further evidence of their value, saying anyone forging such papers would have made sure everything matched.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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