Twenty three years have passed since I first laid eyes on Ivan Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian SS man who according to testimonies by several Treblinka survivors was “Ivan the Terrible” – the man who operated the gas chambers at the extermination camp.
Back then, I was standing at Ben Gurion International Airport, a Holocaust survivor among dozens of media personnel, when the plane landed and the accused stepped out of it, surrounded by several hefty policemen from America.
A year later, his trial opened in Israel. It ended in July 1993 with a verdict by the High Court of Justice, which ordered to acquit, on the grounds of reasonable doubt, the man who earlier was sentenced to death by the district court and send him back to the United States.
Today I am again seeing this Ukrainian SS man. This time he is accused by German prosecutors of taking part in war crimes in another exterminate camp, Sobibor.
It is clear that since the first time I saw him, Demjanjuk has turned into an old and possibly sick man. But does age and one’s health condition erase his guilt? Do they wash away crimes that cannot be described in words? Should a man suspected of mass murder be forgiven just because he sometimes requires the use of a wheelchair?
The answer to the above questions is clearly “no.”
Age does not remedy anything, and in any case there is nothing to fix. How exactly can anyone rectify the extermination of about 800,000 Jews within less than a year in Treblinka or the extermination of 250,000 Jews in Sobibor?
Indeed, Ivan Demjanjuk did not command over the extermination operation. He was not even a senior SS man, but rather, a guard, the lowest rank in the German execution units at the time. However, according to the indictment, he was a cog in the immense extermination machine built by the leaders of the Third Reich in order to resolve the “Jewish problem.”
Without those cogs, the machine would not have been able to work as efficiently as it did, and therefore there is no forgiveness, no amnesty, and no mercy.