About 25 years ago I was asked to attend a fundraising dinner for a man named John Demjanjuk. He was being deported from the United States to face trial in Israel accused of being Ivan the Terrible. I was reluctant to attend since the last thing I wanted was to support the defense of someone who might have been a Nazi war criminal.
However, as an immigration lawyer, I was intrigued by what appeared to me to be the use of criminal law masquerading as immigration law in his case. From that night on, I followed the proceedings in the many trials of John Demjanjuk. While I was not immersed in the case, over the years I became increasingly alarmed by the legal deficiencies that were evident in the prosecution of his case in the United States, then in Israel and finally in Munich. Over time I began writing articles pointing out these legal shortcomings. While his recent death brought an end to his legal journey, I believe the legal legacy of his case will trouble us for many years to come.
Demjanjuk’s legal odyssey began while he was living in Cleveland in the 1970s. In 1975 Michael Hanusiak, editor of the New York-based Ukrainian Daily News, compiled a list of Ukrainians suspected of collaborating with Germans and presented it to what was then the U .S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.