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Israeli Court Bars 2nd Trial, Frees Demjanjuk

September 20, 1993|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio auto worker acquitted of murdering thousands of Jews at a Nazi death camp as "Ivan the Terrible," finally won his freedom Sunday when Israel's Supreme Court rejected demands from Nazi hunters and Holocaust survivors that he be tried on other charges.

Justice Theodore Orr dismissed the petitions for a second trial and upheld the government's decision not to prosecute the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk despite substantial evidence that he had served at a different death camp.

"I do not intend to criticize the intentions of the petitioners who are not at peace with the (fact) that no further criminal proceeding will be carried out against Demjanjuk in Israel," Orr said, refusing requests for a further hearing by a five-judge Supreme Court panel.

"The question of Demjanjuk's (guilt) in criminal acts is an (emotionally) loaded issue, and in the eyes of many, not putting him on trial for further charges is difficult. But . . . the subject does not require an additional hearing."

Orr's ruling followed the Supreme Court's action seven weeks ago overturning Demjanjuk's original 1988 conviction, a government decision then not to prosecute him further and a court ruling upholding that decision; Orr's rejection of the last appeals thus closed the 7 1/2-year "Ivan the Terrible" case here.

Demjanjuk, 73, is now free to leave Israel, and Yoram Sheftel, his Israeli attorney, said that relatives were flying from the United States to escort him back to his home in Cleveland this week. Pending his departure, he remains in Ayalon Prison outside Tel Aviv.

Demjanjuk has always denied, often with table-pounding furor, that he was ever a guard at any Nazi camp, asserting that he was only 22 years old when captured by the German army during World War II and thus was not likely to have any knowledge of the genocide the Nazis were carrying out.

Orr's action was lamented by those who had sought to bring Demjanjuk to trial in Israel a second time on grounds that, if he had not served as the operator of the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp, there was considerable evidence that he had been a guard at Sobibor, another death camp in eastern Poland, during World War II.

"This is a sad day for Israeli justice, for Israel and for the Jewish people," Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, declared.

He challenged the Israeli government to pursue several suspected war criminals and thus prove that it is still committed to bringing them to justice.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said his organization's 384,000 members would bombard the White House with demands that the Clinton Administration oppose restoration of Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship, which was revoked in 1981 on grounds that he had lied about his wartime service.

Harsher words came from Noam Federman, a leader of the ultra-Zionist Kach movement, which had sought a second trial for Demjanjuk and has threatened to kill him.

"This is more proof that the government of Israel and its courts would rather protect Nazis and terrorists," Federman said.

But Harry Wall, director of the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, commented, "In a democracy, this is the most fitting response to the Holocaust--using the law. This was not an act of mercy (toward Demjanjuk), but an act of justice--the mark of a country that upholds universal values even under great pain and in difficult circumstances."

Wall, however, was troubled by the U.S. decision to readmit Demjanjuk.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has said he could return to the United States to seek restoration of his citizenship.

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