"John Demjanjuk Guilty of Nazi Death Camp Murders," ran the headline on the BBC. The lede began:
"A German court has found John Demjanjuk guilty of helping to murder more than 28,000 Jews at a Nazi death camp in Poland."
Not until paragraph 17 does one find this jolting fact: "No evidence was produced that he committed a specific crime."
That is correct. No evidence was produced, no witness came forward to testify he ever saw Demjanjuk injure anyone. And the critical evidence that put Demjanjuk at Sobibor came -- from the KGB.
First was a KGB summary of an alleged interview with one Ignat Danilchenko, who claimed he was a guard at Sobibor and knew Demjanjuk. Second was the Soviet-supplied ID card from the Trawniki camp that trained guards.
There are major problems with both pieces of "evidence."
First, Danilchenko has been dead for a quarter of a century, no one in the West ever interviewed him, and Moscow stonewalled defense requests for access to the full Danilchenko file. His very existence raises a question.
How could a Red Army soldier who turned collaborator and Nazi camp guard survive Operation Keelhaul, which sent all Soviet POWs back to Joseph Stalin, where they were either murdered or sent to the Gulag?
As for the ID card from Trawniki, just last month there was unearthed at the National Archives in College Park, Md., a 1985 report from the Cleveland office of the FBI, which, after studying the card, concluded it was "quite likely" a KGB forgery.
"Justice is ill-served in the prosecution of an American citizen on evidence which is not only normally inadmissible in a court of law, but based on evidence and allegations quite likely fabricated by the KGB."
This FBI report, never made public, was done just as Demjanjuk was being deported to Israel to stand trial as "Ivan the Terrible," the murderer of Treblinka. In a sensational trial covered by the world's press, Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to hang.
But after five years on death row, new evidence turned up when the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia opened up. That evidence wholly validated the claims of Demjanjuk's defenders.
Not only had Demjanjuk never even been at Treblinka, the Soviet files contained a photograph of the real "Ivan" -- a larger and older man.
To its eternal credit, the Israeli Supreme Court reversed the conviction, rejected a request to retry Demjanjuk as a camp guard elsewhere in Poland, freed him and sent him home to America.