Notorious Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk died on Saturday. He was found guilty in May 2011, 66 years after the end of the Second World War, of assisting in the murders of over 28,000 people, mostly Jewish men, women and children, when he served as a guard at the Sobibor Nazi death camp.
As the hands of time bring to a close the era of Nazi war criminals, the lengthy pursuit, capture and conviction of Demjanjuk should serve as a cautionary tale for the 21st century. Where the "Demjanjuks" of presentday Sudan continue in their genocidal ways, take note that no matter the length of time, justice very often does prevail.
Bernie M. Farber (son of Holocaust survivor Max Farber), Thornhill, Ont.NatPo columnist George Jonas detects something different--something far crazier and at the same time more morally complicated--in the relentless Demjanjuk prosecution:
In 1999, the U.S. Justice Department filed a new complaint against him, this time for having been, not Ivan the Terrible, as they had urged for the previous 20 years, but plain John Demjanjuk, a guard at the infamous death camps of Sobibor and Majdanek in German-occupied Poland.
Could it have been true? Yes. When captured by the Germans, many Red Army soldiers "volunteered" to serve the invaders in various capacities to increase the chances of their own survival. Not very heroic, but let those who know for sure they wouldn't have done it cast the first stone.
Germany, being such a moral bastion, stepped up to the plate. It offered to prosecute people whose country it invaded in 1941 for accepting Germany's offer they couldn't refuse. And so it happened that in 2009, Demjanjuk, 88, stripped of his American citizenship again, was extradited to Germany, to be tried and eventually convicted of not saying no to Germany, which now appears to be a crime in that country. They know best why.
As Juvenal pointed out nearly 2,000 years ago, it's difficult not to write satire.Indeed. In fact, "very often" it writes itself.