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You're reading: What John Demjanjuk could have told us

For three years, I served as lead attorney on the U.S. government’s deportation case against Demjanjuk. Five years later, I believe that the Demjanjuk case demonstrates not the triumph of law, but law’s limitations.

I do not mean to suggest that Demjanjuk was falsely accused. His service as a guard at Sobibor is beyond dispute. The key evidence consists of a wartime German identity card bearing his name, his photograph and unique biographic details: his date and place of birth, his father’s name, the color of his eyes, the scar on his back. Credible experts have repeatedly examined the card. In every detail, from the ink and paper used to the signatures of Nazi officials, the card is unmistakably genuine.

Demjanjuk’s service at Sobibor and other Nazi camps is confirmed by six Nazi documents gathered from archives in three countries. Any claim that the documents were forged and then scattered across Europe and the former Soviet Union as part of a Soviet plot to frame Demjanjuk is absurd. Even Demjanjuk’s own lawyers abandoned that claim. In the second U.S. trial, his lawyers argued instead that the man the documents depicted was either Demjanjuk’s cousin or someone who had stolen his identity.

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