Survivors decry restoration of Demjanjuks citizenship

Frankel, who survived five years in ghettos and concentration camps, including a stint at Auschwitz, has followed the ups and downs of the Demjanjuk case since it began in Cleveland 20 years ago.

The news of the case, then and now, "has brought back a lot of bad memories," she said in an interview. "People like him were my guards, too."

Frankel lost her entire family during the Holocaust. She had a brother who would be the same age as Demjanjuk today if he had survived.

Demjanjuk "does not deserve to have a free life, to be with his family," said Frankel, her voice trembling.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Matia's decision to dismiss the 1981 judgment stripping Demjanjuk of his American citizenship left the door open for the Department of Justice to file a new denaturalization case against the man who was once accused of being the notorious Nazi guard named "Ivan the Terrible."

Matia said that procedural, not substantive issues were before the court in this case.

The court considered "whether certain actions (or inactions) by the government denied Demjanjuk information or material which he was entitled to receive pursuant to court discover orders, whether such conduct by the government constitutes fraud upon the court and, if so, what the appropriate sanction should be," Matia wrote in his decision.

"Whether the defendant was a guard at Trawniki or whether he did anything else that would have disqualified him as a candidate for United States citizenship," were not issues before the court, he wrote.

Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, said the department will soon make a decision on whether or not to refile denaturalization proceedings against Demjanjuk.

The case first made news in 1977, when the Justice Department accused Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian native, of operating the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942-43.

Several Treblinka survivors identified him from a photo spread as the guard, and the former Soviet Union provided from its war archives a Nazi identification card from the Trawniki camp where Nazi death camp guards were recruited and trained.

Demjanjuk, a retired auto worker living in Cleveland, insisted that he was a Red Army soldier who spent most of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp. He has denied working in the death camps.

Based on the Trawniki evidence, Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel in 1986.

Following well-publicized and lengthy legal proceedings, an Israeli court convicted Demjanjuk of being "Ivan the Terrible" and sentenced him to death in 1988.

In 1993, however, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction, saying there was "reasonable doubt" that Demjanjuk was the Treblinka guard. The court, however, found compelling evidence that he had served as an SS guard at the Sobibor death camp and the Flossenburg and Regensburg concentration camps.

That same year, Demjanjuk returned to the United States, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the Justice Department knowingly withheld information in the 1981 case that could have been used to help the Demjanjuk defense team fight his extradition to Israel.

After the circuit court ruling, the Justice Department asked the U.S. District Court to reaffirm the order that stripped Demjanjuk of his citizenship since evidence also showed that he served at the Trawniki camp.

Demjanjuk asked the court to overturn the denaturalization decision and restore his citizenship.

Matia explained in his decision that he was leaving the door open for the Justice Department to file a new case against Demjanjuk because "just as the government should not be able to profit from misbehavior, neither should a defendant be insulated from the consequences of his alleged moral turpitude because he becomes the inadvertent beneficiary of sanctions against the government."

Alan Rosenbaum, a professor of philosophy at Cleveland State University and author of the book "Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals," said that Demjanjuk still has not been cleared of the charges that he served as a camp guard at Trawniki and Sobibor.

"I don't think justice has been done. I think that case needs to be heard," Rosenbaum said.

Holocaust survivor Zev Harel said he and his fellow survivors are outraged at the restoration of Demjanjuk's citizenship.

"From our perspective, justice has been thwarted and not served," said Harel, immediate past president of Kol Israel, a local survivors' organization.

"I hope this is not the end of this story," added Harel, a history professor at Cleveland State University. "The Justice Department must take this issue further. He obtained his U.S. citizenship illegally, and he has been restored that citizenship which he never had a right to."

Rabbi Avi Weiss, an activist from New York, who has organized protests at the Demjanjuk home, said the judge's decision "is one of the greatest contributions to Holocaust revisionism. It is a terrible desecration to the memory of the 6 million."

Avi Goldman, the child of Holocaust survivors and president of the Cleveland Holocaust Center, believes that members of the Jewish community should again demonstrate in front of Demjanjuk's home.

"Something has to be done. A voice has to be heard that he is not cleared," he said.