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Israel Delays Demjanjuk's Deportation


JERUSALEM — Israel's Supreme Court, which last week acquitted John Demjanjuk of being "Ivan the Terrible," Sunday held up his deportation to Ukraine to give the attorney general time to decide whether to prosecute him on other war crime charges.

Acting on petitions by a survivor of the Holocaust and a right-wing, ultra-Zionist group, the court told the attorney general to consider a new trial based on allegations that Demjanjuk had served as a guard at Nazi concentration camps other than Treblinka, where "Ivan the Terrible" had been.

The ruling came just a few hours before Demjanjuk, 73, was to leave for Kiev, capital of his native Ukraine. His family was told by police of the new court action as they were checking in their bags at the airport.

"We are extremely disappointed," said Ed Nishnic, Demjanjuk's son-in-law. "This torture has got to stop."

In their 405-page decision Thursday, five Supreme Court justices ruled that, based on new evidence obtained from old Soviet files, there is "reasonable doubt" that Demjanjuk was "Ivan the Terrible," the sadistic guard who operated the gas chamber at Treblinka, where 850,000 Jews were killed.

Convicted in 1988 and sentenced to death, Demjanjuk had insisted he was a victim of mistaken identity.

The court did find that Demjanjuk, taken prisoner by the Germans in 1942 while fighting in the Red Army, had been trained as a Nazi death camp guard. New evidence showed he had probably gone on to serve at Sobibor, another death camp in eastern Poland.

Although Israeli law permitted the court to convict Demjanjuk on war crime charges for serving at Sobibor, the justices held that he had not had sufficient opportunity to defend himself because the accusations were not brought up at his original trial. They also ruled that a new trial was impractical.

"The matter is closed--but not complete," the five justices said in their unanimous opinion. "The complete truth is not the prerogative of the human judge."

On Sunday, three justices who had not participated in that decision acted on the two petitions, blocking Demjanjuk's deportation and ordering the attorney general to consider charging him with Sobibor crimes. Israel's Supreme Court has several functions, and the judges who heard the new petitions have authority to intervene in urgent cases. Another hearing will be held in 10 days.

Noam Federman, a leader of Kach, the ultra-Zionist movement founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, praised the court for accepting his petition and that of Yisrael Yehezkeli, whose family was killed at Sobibor.

"Thank God the court has ruled to hold up deportation of this Nazi from the country," Federman said. ". . . A Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi, and he should be tried and punished as such."

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also welcomed the decision.

"I think this is a very small consolation to the . . . millions of Israelis who were so incensed that a man clearly acknowledged to be a Nazi war criminal by the Israeli courts was let go," Zuroff said. "I only hope that it will also result in his prosecution for those crimes."

Demjanjuk, who remains in solitary confinement in Ayalon Prison in Ramle, outside Tel Aviv, has insisted he was never a guard at any death camp but a German prisoner throughout the war.

Demjanjuk, a retired auto worker, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 for concealing his wartime activities when he entered the United States and settled in Cleveland in 1952. He was extradited to Israel in 1986.

Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk's Israeli lawyer, said that Israeli courts no longer have any jurisdiction following Demjanjuk's acquittal of charges of being "Ivan the Terrible."

"Demjanjuk was extradited from the United States strictly to face charges on the crimes of 'Ivan the Terrible,' " Sheftel said, "and under the extradition treaty as well as Israeli law he cannot be prosecuted on any other charges. No way, absolutely no way. . . .

"A new case is purely theoretical--and purely political. This is the work of our lunatic fringe, and I am no longer surprised by its actions."

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