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John Demjanjuk Denaturalization Trial: 1981

Holocaust Survivors Testify, Sentenced To Death

Defendant: John Demjanjuk
Crime Charged: Illegal procurement of U.S. citizenship
Chief Defense Lawyer: John Martin
Chief Prosecutors: Norman Moskowitz and George Parker
Judge: Frank Battisti
Place: Cleveland, Ohio
Dates of Trial: February 10-June 23, 1981
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: U.S. naturalization revoked

SIGNIFICANCE: The denaturalization trial of accused war criminal John Demjanjuk marked the beginning of a long and acrimonious legal battle that would be fought out in courtrooms on two continents for more than a decade.

In 1975 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began investigating a list of approximately 70 war criminals allegedly living in America. High on this list was a sadistic Ukrainian guard known as "Ivan the Terrible," who had personally gassed thousands of Jews in the Nazi death camp at Treblinka in 1942-43. Evidence suggested that after the war Ivan had entered America illegally and was currently living in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1977, a 57-yearold Ford Motor Company plant mechanic named John Demjanjuk was accused of being Ivan the Terrible.

Demjanjuk arrived in America in 1952. Six years later he was granted citizenship. At this time he also Anglicized his name from Ivan to John. In 1979 INS investigators were shown a photocopied identification card purportedly issued to an "Ivan Denjanjuk" at Trawniki, a German training camp for SS elite guards in Poland. Demjanjuk denied that the card was his. When several ex-Treblinka inmates identified the person shown on the ID card as "Ivan the Terrible," the INS decided to review Demjanjuk's application to find out if he had covered up any concentration camp activities. If this turned out to be the case, his citizenship could be revoked.

The hearing began on February 10, 1981. Prosecutor Norman Moskowitz led off with the expert witnesses. It was their job to verify the disputed ID card. Professor Wolfgang Sheffler, an acknowledge Nazi expert, admitted never having seen a card exactly like it, but he thought the information shown on the Trawniki card seemed genuine. Heinrich Schaeffer, a former paymaster at Trawniki, declared unequivocally that the card was genuine.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988