On Monday, July 13, German officials filed charges against retired Ohio auto worker John Demjanjuk for Nazi war crimes. Prosecutors in Munich charged Demjanjuk with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder for being a Nazi guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland during World War II. The 89-year-old Demjanjuk claims that he was a Nazi prisoner of war himself and that he didn’t hurt anyone.
The Demjanjuk Saga
Today’s charges come after three decades of seeking justice against Demjanjuk for committing Nazi war crimes. The following are key dates in the history of Demjanjuk’s case.
- In 1952, Demjanjuk immigrated to the US from the Ukraine, claiming that he was a Soviet Red Army soldier held as a prisoner of war by the Nazis during World War II
- In 1958, Demjanjuk was granted US citizenship
- In 1977, the US Justice Department claimed that Demjanjuk was “Ivan the Terrible,” a Nazi prison guard at the Treblinka death camp in Poland
- In 1981, Demjanjuk’s US citizenship was revoked
- In 1986, Demjanjuk was deported to Israel
- In 1988, Demjanjuk was sentenced to death for war crimes committed at Treblinka
- In 1993 the Israeli Supreme Court overturned Demjanjuk’s conviction based on depositions by Treblinka guards who identified a different man as being “Ivan”
- In 1998, Demjanjuk’s US citizenship was restored
- In 2002, Demjanjuk’s US citizenship was revoked a second time based on evidence that he served as a guard at Sobibor and other Nazi camps in Poland
- In 2005, a US immigration judge ruled that Demjanjuk could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine for war crimes
- In March 2009, German prosecutors tried to have Demjanjuk deported for being an accessory to 29,000 murders at Sobibor
- In May 2009, US federal courts denied Demjanjuk a stay of deportation, allowing him to be taken to Germany
- In July 2009, Demjanjuk was found fit to stand trial in Germany, where he was charged with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder
Denaturalization and Deportation for Nazi War Crimes
US laws don’t provide for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. Instead, the US policy is to revoke their citizenship and deport them from the US to be prosecuted in other countries. Naturalization is the process through which foreign-born people become US citizens. Denaturalization is the opposite process where the US Government revokes their US citizenship. US citizenship can be revoked if it was gained illegally. In 2002, a federal court revoked Demjanjuk’s US citizenship because he obtained it illegally under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 by hiding his past as a Nazi camp guard.
Also, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) specifically allows Nazi criminals to be deported from the US. The law calls for the deportation of any noncitizen who worked with the Nazis during 1933 to 1945 to harm people based on their race, religion, national origin, or political opinion. In May of 2009, a US federal court allowed Demjanjuk to be deported to Germany, where he was formally charged with war crimes on Monday.
Stay tuned for more information about Demjanjuk’s case as the trial moves forward.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Once granted US citizenship, how many times can the government revoke and then reinstate someone’s citizenship?
- Is there a trial or a hearing for revoking citizenship? When can you present evidence in an attempt to retain citizenship?
- If a naturalized citizen has their US citizenship revoked, what citizenship do they have, if any?