The government is clearing the way for John Demjanjuk, finally, to be deported from Cleveland. If Germany decides to put him on trial, he will go. Known as “Ivan the Terrible,” this man was a notorious SS guard at two Nazi death camps in Poland. In the last one, Sobibor, at least 29,000 Jews perished, one in fifteen a German, all of them either elderly or women and children.
At 88 and reportedly ailing, he could be one of the last — or the very last — Nazi war criminal to be prosecuted. There aren’t enough survivors left to identify any others who participated in Hitler’s infamous program to cleanse the world of Jews, liberals, homosexuals and other inferior types. None of them were ever charged with any crime other than being who they were. None of them ever went on trial.
The extradition of Ivan the Terrible at this time should be significant to all of us and trigger pretty sobering thoughts, or even some bad dreams. This man has spent the last fifty-five years of his life running away, fighting the inevitability of having to account for his deeds. Now imagine what will life be like for those Americans who are involved in the so-called extraordinary or enhanced interrogation techniques (officially not called torture) on the detainees against whom we have no evidence, file no charges, schedule no trials? In addition to the crippling post traumatic stress, the suicide rate of American servicemen and veterans of this war is higher than in any armed forces of any nation in any war in history.
Of course, in their defense, it could be claimed that official government documents exonerated them of all responsibility for their actions. After all, they are under orders. Except that the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi criminals ruled out that plea. No soldier is ever required to commit an act which is illegal. But to refuse the order a man’s life can be ruined by a comment in his service record which he cannot disprove: the army has its ways. There’s a test, like in so may ways in our society, to choose between compliance and integrity. Either way there’s a price.
And for us, especially after those who willingly comply, and even enjoy their work as we could see in the photographs we’ve been allowed to view, what will life be like here when this debacle is over and, no longer needed, they return home? How will our society, supposedly grounded on the rule of law and decency, absorb them and the behavior they were conditioned for? What kind and how much violence are we prepared to tolerate? As with Demjanjuk‘s case, the aftermath will last a long time and won’t go away. There’s no forgetting. There is already too much injustice and pain on both sides.
The Fourth of July is only four weeks away. Patriotism: of course. Pride? Think about that.