By Jim Traficant
The long ordeal of John Demjanjuk is finally over. Demjanjuk passed away March 17, in Bavaria, Germany. He was 91 years old. I met John in 1993 in a small solitary cell in a prison in Israel. He’d be turned out into a small outdoor corridor for one hour, three times a week. He was convicted as the infamous “Ivan the Terrible” of the Treblinka work camp in Poland. He was sentenced to death, awaiting execution.
John told me he couldn’t believe I was there in his cell. His spirit was lifted. He said he felt “hope for the first time” since his incarceration.
He prepared two bowls of potato soup. We had lunch. He told me that the Israeli guards would bring him seeds to plant where he had cultivated a small patch of hardened clay into an unusual garden, no more than four square feet. John showed me how he converted the small, barren patch of clay by collecting the droppings of pigeons, storing them in a container of water to fertilize the hard earth to produce tomatoes and vegetables.
The bowl of soup was special. John Demjanjuk was special. John never had been a National Socialist. Our government knew that. The U.S. Justice Department perpetrated one of the world’s greatest crimes against John. To this day, I cannot believe our government could do such a thing to an American citizen. The Justice Department knew he was not “Ivan” yet allowed him to be sent to Israel to potentially face the death penalty.
Thankfully, an Israeli court found him innocent and allowed him to go home to his family. But that wasn’t the end of this terrible story.
Why was John found guilty by a second trial in Germany? It’s as simple as the following: John had listed the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland as the place where he worked from 1937-1943, as a farmhand, when he filed an application in 1948.
Applicants for Displaced Person Status had to fill out a form that required them to say where they had been for the previous 12 years.
Keep in mind that unless John could show he’d been living outside the Soviet Union on Sept 1, 1939, John could not, under the terms of the Yalta Agreement, be accepted as a displaced person. He would have been returned to the Soviet Union. Once these displaced persons were returned to the Soviet Union, they were executed by firing squad.
When John was asked at trial why he had listed Sobibor on his form, John replied: “I had no idea what to write. Another applicant told me to put Sobibor, because many Soviets had been there.”
John fibbed on the form to prevent his repatriation to the Soviet Union, where he would be shot to death. Our government knew that. But the Justice Department needed to convict John to be historically let off the hook for knowingly, wrongfully convicting an innocent man as “Ivan the Terrible.” The criminals at the Justice Department were going to allow John to be executed for crimes he did not commit.
Sadly, not one of those who sent John to trial was ever prosecuted. The 6th Circuit Court ruled their actions as a “tragic, but honest mistake.” Beam me up!
The evidence I attained through whistleblowers and a Freedom of Information Act request spared his life. The Justice Department had this evidence from day one. The Israeli Supreme Court set him free on the receipt of the evidence. In fact, Israel did not want to try John for alleged “crimes at Sobibor.” So Germany decided to do it.
As I reflect, I remember John’s son-in-law Ed Nishnic telling me: “John Jr. and I have been to every congressional office, and every senator’s office, and not one would even talk with us. We did not want to come to see you because we knew that the Justice Department hated you, but you were the only one left.”
Nishnic was honest. My staff told me if I even met with them I’d eventually be unseated. They were correct. I told my staff to bring them in. I told them that John had been convicted of mass murder and if he was truly guilty that I would pull the switch on the electric chair myself. I also told them that all citizens should be able to bring their concerns to their elected representatives. I then commenced an investigation into the matters they brought forward.
The press wrote: “Traficant supports Nazi mass murderer.” When I brought John home from Israel, the press never mentioned my name again.
I said it back then and I say it now: When does the sensitivity of a case waive the Bill of Rights? I also said: When we allow the rights of one American to be violated, we endanger the rights of all Americans.
The only piece of evidence used against John was a Trawniki training camp card, which was supplied by the Soviet Union. But this card was labeled “a KGB forgery” by the FBI in 1985.
John’s last public words were: “Germany used me as a scapegoat.” Get back at me.
James A. (Jim) Traficant Jr. was born in Ohio in 1941. He received BS and MS degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. He also received an MS from Youngstown State University. From 1981 to 1985 he served as sheriff of Mahoning County, prior to his election to the U.S. Congress in 1984. Donations of support may be sent to Mrs. Tish Traficant, 429 Main Street, Poland, OH 44514.