We've all read the terrible stories about Hitler's cruelty toward the Jewish people in World War II and about the Holocaust. We have also heard numerous Holocaust "Deniers" (these are the same people who believe that earth is flat). But the curious case of 'Ivan the Terrible' garnered global attention in the 70s and 80s for all the eerie reasons. Find out what they were.
Nazis exterminated millions of Jews in concentration camps set up across Europe by German forces on Adolf Hitler’s directions as part of the “Jewish Solution”. German soldiers took the Jewish people, and other “non-Aryan” races too, to the “showers”- gas chambers, on trains for suffocating them unto death.
In the face of death and extreme cruelty, an uprising of about 300 Jewish prisoners broke out in Sobibor Concentration Camp on the 14th of October, 1943. The prisoners faced Nazi guards’ guns and heavy blows, but they still managed to burn the place down- only about 60 people escaped. After all, it wasn’t easy to stand up and defeat the Nazis using conventional methods.
The prisoners killed many SS soldiers, and a few of the survivor soldiers were taken as prisoners for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But what if we told you that one such guard/ soldier, who worked the gas chambers and death camps, successfully managed to run away and took up a new identity in the USA?
Ivan Demjanjuk or Ivan, the Terrible - Thin Lines of Nazi History
Ivan Demjanjuk, who later changed his name to John Demjanjuk, was born in Ukraine. He was trained and put into the Soviet Red Army in 1940. The Germans captured him in a 1942 war manoeuvre somewhere in Western Russia.
After surviving through the War, Demjanjuk emigrated to Cleveland in 1952 with his wife Vera Demjanjuk and a daughter, and got the US citizenship in 1958. He was knowledgeable and skilled enough to land a job as an engineer at Ford Motor Co. in Ohio.
Changed Fate of Demjanjuk
When Demjanjuk had been a US citizen for over 20 years, his citizenship was revoked on the 23rd of June 1981 by the District Court of Northern District, Ohio. The court found that he had lied in his US immigration application by misrepresenting his residence from 1937 to 1948, the years of World War II.
He also didn’t disclose that he worked for the SS at the Treblinka Concentration Camp in Poland from 1942. In one of his forms, he mentioned that he worked as a farmer in Poland in a Sobibor settlement, where the uprising broke out (as mentioned above). Coincidence? Probably not.
Bringing the Nazi Criminal to Justice- Israel's Plea
Following the news and information about “John” Demjanjuk being Ivan, the Terrible, a deadly murderous guard at Treblinka and Sobibor Concentration Camps, Israel issued a warrant against Demjanjuk for crimes against Jewish people punishable under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law.
After standing a trial in the US, Demjanjuk was then extradited to Israel in 1986 for trial by the Israeli Court. The Jerusalem District Court held the trials.
The survivors of the Holocaust identified John Demjanjuk as ‘Ivan the Terrible’.
Eliyahu Rosenberg, a 65- year-old survivor of Treblinka concentration camp, gave a very emotional testimony in the Israeli court. When he was asked to identify the defendant, he walked up to Demjanjuk and asked him to take his glasses off to look him in the eyes. Demjanjuk agreed.
Rosenberg said “I say it unhesitatingly, without the slightest shadow of a doubt. It is Ivan from Treblinka, from the gas chambers, the man I am looking at now… I saw his eyes; I saw those murderous eyes“.
Who Was the Nazi Guard Ivan the Terrible?
‘Ivan the Terrible’ was the sadist guard who worked at Sobibor and Treblinka Concentration Camps. He was notoriously known for flogging women and children and even hacking the ears and noses of thousands of Jewish prisoners being led to the gas chambers. According to the forms he filled out, he was placed at Sobibor precisely at the time as Ivan the Terrible.
This information played a significant role in the case. Demjanjuk maintained that it was a case of mistaken identity. Evidence like photos from the camp, which included Ivan the Terrible was shown to the witnesses, and they immediately pointed out that John Demjanjuk was ‘Ivan the Terrible’.
The district court found him guilty and sentenced him to death in 1988 based on the statements and evidence. However, the Supreme court overturned this sentence in 1993 as there were some inconsistencies in some of the survivors’ comments.
In-depth Investigations Into Nazi History
Inconsistencies were bound to happen as the witnesses were old and had been through enough trauma at the hands of Ivan the Terrible. The Supreme Court acquitted him as new evidence came to light from the KGB files on Nazi war criminals. Soviet records showed that Ivan the Terrible may have been another person. And Demjanjuk’s was a case of mistaken identity.
The Office of Special Investigations (United States Department of Justice) questioned thirty-seven former Treblinka guards about Ivan the Terrible. They revealed that his real name was Ivan Marchenko. They, however, said that there was a resemblance between Demjanjuk’s photo and that of Marchenko’s.
To-and-fro & Acquittal of a Possible Nazi
Demjanjuk returned to the US after being acquitted and gained citizenship again. In 2009 however, he was once again deported to Germany. The trial there started on the 30th of November, 2009. Demjanjuk was to be tried for being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 people.
He still maintained that he wasn’t Ivan the Terrible, and that it was merely a case of mistaken identity. Since this trial was almost seven decades later, the witnesses couldn’t identify him as Sobibor’s guard during the Munich trial. The prosecution depended entirely on the physical evidence available.
It was enough to convict Demjanjuk, and he was found guilty of all charges and was sentenced to five years of prison time. The Demjanjuk family filed an appeal against this order, however, even before they could process the request, Demjanjuk died at 91 at a nursing home.