• Germany's news in English

Anger simmers in Demjanjuk's home village

AFP · 20 Dec 2009, 09:30

Published: 20 Dec 2009 09:30 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"He was a good man. When he was younger, he worked on a tractor. I was still young at the time and he let me ride on the harrow," said Demjanjuk's former neighbour Maria Zagrebelna, 79.

He padded it with grass so I would be more comfortable," she added.

The Demjanjuk family's shack is gone today, prey to a fire. The family "lived in deep poverty, like everyone at the time," another neighbour Maria Bondarchuk said.

Many in this small central Ukrainian village of Dubovy Makharyntsy where Demjanjuk spent his first 20 years slam the accusations that he helped murder 27,900 people at the notorious Sobibor concentration camp.

To villagers, John – formerly Ivan Demjanjuk – was an unexceptional youth.

"Here is Ivan," said 81-year-old Bondarchuk, pointing with a knotty finger to a hazy, round face on a yellowing photograph where Demjanjuk is pictured posing in a cap with five friends.

Grigory Nemyrivsky, 91, keeps fond memories of going to the cinema once a month with his friend Ivan. "We didn't have money to pay for the show, so we helped turn the film reel to watch the movie," he said.

Demjanjuk left his home village in 1940, never to return. Drafted into the Red Army, he was taken prisoner by German troops in 1942.

Demjanjuk then became a zealous guard for six months at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943, according to the charges at his trial which is due to resume on Monday in Munich.

Deported in May from the United States, to which he moved after World War II, Demjanjuk denies the accusations but admits to being rotated among several concentration camps until the end of the war.

"Everything that they say about him today, that he killed a lot of people... well if it's true, it's because they forced him to do it!" Nemyrivsky said.

"He wouldn't have been able to do that himself – I guarantee it 100 percent. He wouldn't have been capable, I know him well, he was my friend."

Ukraine's Jewish community disappeared under the Nazi occupation, with the German SS exploiting anger among the Ukrainian populace over their subjugation by the Soviet Union to recruit people for menial jobs.

Villagers said Demjanjuk got on well with the Jewish families living nearby. But that is difficult to verify because all the Jews were killed or fled amid the horrors of World War II.

Story continues below…

The village has been closely following Demjanjuk's trial, which is likely to be the last major court case dealing with the Holocaust.

"I feel sorry for him that he is over there on trial," Zagrebelna said.

Even those who did not know Demjanjuk voiced sympathy.

"He is 89 years old, what is the good of putting him on trial now? He has already got one foot in the grave. If he is convicted, it won't change anything. It won't bring back the dead," pensioner Olga Basiliuk said.

"It was war then. We weren't the ones who started the war. It was the Germans. Now they want to put a Ukrainian on trial for these crimes!" Tetiana Djeruk said angrily.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

13:15 December 20, 2009 by Frenemy
This is a trite homage to "justice".

He is already confined to a medically-induced prison (his bed), and "he has already got one foot in the grave" as Olga Basiliuk so subtlety put it.

Whats the point of all this?
17:50 December 20, 2009 by blackminorcapullets
The anger is over the persecution of this innocent man.

And his innocence was proven in Israel where they DID consider charges that he was a guard at Sobibor. However the camp inmates all testified that he was never there including one that worked in the guards barracks - he knew them all and said that Demjanjuk was never there.

Finally the US govt had evidence that proved his innocence and they threw it away. They knowingly threw it away at the McDonalds across the street.
18:29 December 20, 2009 by Marsha Skrypuch
I cannot believe how biased this article is. This quote in particular stands out:

"Ukraine's Jewish community disappeared under the Nazi occupation, with the German SS exploiting anger among the Ukrainian populace over their subjugation by the Soviet Union to recruit people for menial jobs."

Ukraine's Jewish community was murdered by the Nazis. The Nazis also murdered millions of Ukrainians. Both Jews and Ukrainians were considered subhuman by the Nazis.

Ukraine lost 10 million citizens during WWII -- a larger population loss than any other country. That figure includes 600,000 Jewish Ukrainians.

Germans are now trying to rewrite history, making out one of their biggest victims into a perpetrator. Shame on you.
19:12 December 20, 2009 by gabe g
Not only is it shameful - it's also frightening. Why is truth so hard to find?
19:12 December 20, 2009 by Truth teller
I used to think that sons should not be held to account for the sins of their fathers. Now that Germany is playing footsie with a neo-imperial Russia at the expense of Ukraine, and camouflaging its perfidiousness by bringing "Nazis" to trial (except, of course, for Germans) I am beginning to believe what a Polish survivor of Auschwitz once told me: "the Germans should be bombed flat every 25 years, no matter what they are doing."
19:26 December 20, 2009 by Anthony Schlega
Living over here in Munich, and following Iwan¦#39;s case closely, my main concern is this:

the charge he is being prosecuted with, assistance to murder is being processed at all costs, even though they cannot prove he was nearby or saw anyone being killed. The OSI failed in their first attempt to convict Iwan with Israel. Now they want revenge. The OSI is out dated and will be soon obsolete. Is this revenge justifiable? What is going to happen to Iwan when this is all over? Will he be allowed to return home to see his dying wife? No. The USA will not let him back in their land. Will he ever see his wife again? It does not look like it. She is to sick to travel. Visiting time is 30 minutes every two weeks. One visitor only. And this man has not been found guilty of anything other than he wore a German Uniform. How many others are going to be treated the same way? And where will Iwan live after this?
19:26 December 20, 2009 by wxman
Good posts. As I've said before on this issue, the German people need to be on trial here. They are the ones who stood by idly while the Nazis killed millions of innocent non-combatants. Now, to assuage their collective guilt, they put a foreigner, who suffered under their oppression (and an American citizen), on trial. Instead, the world should put all of Germany on trial for these atrosities. Perhaps Truth teller's final observation is correct.
20:04 December 20, 2009 by olenapret
What a shameful show Germany is performing to mitigate their own sordid Nazi past by putting an old, sick man like Demjanjuk on trial. Ukrainians were forced to abet the Germans in their murderous quest for world domination.
20:55 December 20, 2009 by wenddiver
I am not Ukrainian. I am an American. It was right to throw Demjanuk out of the US, because he obtained his citizenship illegally, but to continue these trials is insane.

At some point the war must end. Israel released this man. The American's released Joachim Peiper. It is time to move on. If he did these things, let his coscience torture him.

Does the left intend to try every supporter of East Germany or Russia every supporter of Stalin still alive. On what day an we expect the trial of the Russians who committed the attrocitys a Katyn??? Will we try the Communist Chinese advisors to Pol Pot, in the killing fields of Cambodia?
22:39 December 20, 2009 by Frenemy
I believe the REAL (old-school) Nazis are all gone. There just aren't any left! Unless they're hiding out in South America somewhere, I'm pretty sure that Metsada/Kidon or people like Simon Wiesenthal have long since taken care of those fools...

@Marsha Skrypuch: Let me guess, you are Ukrainian (or of CIS origin at the very least) right? Let me assure you that the people who go out looking for guys like Demjanjuk are NOT German. He is being prosecuted because he is in Germany and someone brought his past to the attention of the authorities (whose hands are tied because this subject is EXTREMELY politically charged). Once his identity was publicized, the judiciary had no choice but to begin criminal proceedings. (welcome to guilt-fueled domestic politics...)

@olenapret: This isn't about political misdirection or assigning blame!! Its about a pathetic, self-hating, guilt-racked, institutionally brain-washed German public self-flagellating themselves in the international community for sh!t that happened over 60 years ago!!!

@truth teller: lol, Even as a German, I must admit that quote is pretty damn funny! :-) .....then again, you have to think to yourself: nothing levels out the economic/geopolitical playing field better than bombing the sh!t out of a country you can't economically/intellectually compete with under normal conditions ;-)

[Side-note: one other (linguistic) thing I feel compelled to point out (for future reference):

"...and camouflaging its perfidiousness by bringing "Nazis" to... "

Not only is that an inappropriate use of the word "perfidiousness", but that statement is conceptually redundant (ie. perfidiousness is inherently covert/duplicitous, so saying that it is "camouflaged" doesn't make much sense)]

@wxman: "the world should put all of Germany on trial for these atrocities"??!! Well that would be an interesting twist in historical trends (ie. "persecuting"/holding German like me, who's parents weren't even alive during WWII, responsible). I will conclude by simply saying: that is VERY dangerous talk my friend...
00:23 December 21, 2009 by Marsha Skrypuch
Dear Frenemy --

I am Canadian, born and raised.


"I believe the REAL (old-school) Nazis are all gone. There just aren't any left!"

There are likely plenty still living in Germany, including some who will be testifying against Demjanjuk.
00:23 December 21, 2009 by dhertzfeld
Personally I would like to add to the discussion that right now as I am writing this a very old and I think most will agree innocent man is suffering for the good of no one. This man has been hounded and hunted for over thirty years and there is not a sole alive that will reap anything positive from this. I am so angry with my country of origin (U.S) and my state (Ohio) to know that this is occurring right now and I wish there was something I could do. One thing I feel is certain is that John Demjanjuk will soon meet his maker and will be welcomed with open arms. By the way I do not give a damn if my last statement offends anyone.
00:52 December 21, 2009 by Frenemy
@M.Skrypuch: Canuk ay? Well, I apologize for the mischaracterization. Nevertheless, you are wrong. Anyone in that generation that knows (or knows of) a living, breathing Nazi will report and testify against them. Do you really think that 85-90 year olds give a flying f#ck about political consequences or legal repercussions???

@dhertzfeld: maybe he's innocent, maybe he's not/maybe "his maker" will greet him, maybe he will be greeted by a red dude with horns and a pointy tail....either way, I don't care! But for all (mortal) intents and purposes, the guy is already dead.

My overall point here is that this whole debacle is a circus act! On trial, guilty or not guilty, acquitted...it doesn't matter. Demjanjuk's circumstances are not gonna change one damned bit. The whole thing is moot!!!! (and a waste of time, money, and legal resources)
01:31 December 21, 2009 by sc123
@Frenemy: what makes you so sure you are right?
02:36 December 21, 2009 by Thames
I am sure there were many Ukrainians who were glad to see the Jews go.

Many Jews who tried to return to their homes in Eastern Europe were not let back in their old homes. Pograms against the Jews were going on in Eastern Europe long before there were any National Socialists.

The Germans are not the only anti-Semites in the world. There is no way they could have pulled off the Holocost without willing help from locals.

The biggest problem with Demjanjuk is they don't seem to have any proof.

And as another poster indicated is is very possible he just went along with the to save himself.
03:40 December 21, 2009 by Davey-jo
Look sometime you got to give up and say it's too long ago and no-one knows what happened any more. You've got no live witnesses in court. You've got a half-dead accused. You look like blundering idiots. Give up. No-one will think the less of Germany. No-one is worried about you any more. If that bothers you then you've got a serious problem.
04:47 December 21, 2009 by Marsha Skrypuch
Dear Thames --

Antisemitism is not the only kind of racism in the world, and your intolerant comments are an apt demonstration of that.

During WWII, 10 million Ukrainians were killed, including 600,000 Jewish Ukrainians. It is difficult to save one's neighbour when one is being killed.
06:02 December 21, 2009 by Frenemy
@sc123: What makes me so sure about what? The total lunacy of this politically motivated media feeding-frenzy, or the legal/ethical futility of the case itself?

@Davey-jo: I agree completely!

@Marsha Skrypuch: Yes it is "difficult to save one's neighbor when one is being killed". That's why the people that actually do it are called "heroes". In fact, that is the very definition of selfless bravery (a characteristic you will only find in
07:01 December 21, 2009 by Marsha Skrypuch
The reason I'm emphasizing Ukrainian losses is because Demjanjuk is Ukrainian. There seems to be a fair bit of ignorance about what really happened in Ukraine during WWII. As to the 10 million Ukrainians, I suggest you read some history books. Norman Davies is an excellent historian on Eastern European topics. Here's a good web reference:


And you mention that people who save their neighbours are called heroes. That's true. It's unfortunate that no one tried to save Ukrainians. They were abandoned by the Allies and persecuted by the Soviets and are still being made scapegoats by the Germans.
21:19 December 21, 2009 by Henckel
The fate of the Ukrainians in WW2 was not only tragic, but looking at it from the wartime German perspective, also needless. many Ukrainians welcomed the Germans, remembering the benign German occupation in 1917-18. And the Ukrainians are only partly Slavic in ancestry. A good many have Nordic ancestry from the medieval Varangians from Scandinavia.
21:56 December 21, 2009 by Marsha Skrypuch

You are correct in saying that many Ukrainians initially welcomed the Germans in the beginning days of WWII, believing that they were being liberated from the horrors of Stalin. Of course, they soon found out that the Nazis were not exactly benign. Ukrainians were considered Slavic and thus sub-human. The plan was to kill 80% of the Ukrainian population to make "living space" for Aryans.

As for the supposed Nordic ancestry of Ukrainians, that was also used against them with the Lebensborn program, where Slavic children who had so-called Aryan features were stolen from their families and brainwashed into thinking they were German and then placed into German families.
03:26 December 23, 2009 by escapefromobamastan
This man was found guilty at his FIRST trial and then Israel had to backtrack because it was a case of misidentification. LEAVE THE GUY ALONE.
04:50 December 23, 2009 by Thames
Dear Marsha Skrypuch

Why do you resort to personal attacks? Do you really believe everyone in Eastern Europe treated the Jews well? You need to study history. I merely point out facts and you label me intolerant. Intolerant of what? How are my comments intolerant? If you disagree with my statements provide facts to disprove them. I would be glad to learn if I am wrong. I certainly don't deny that many Ukrainians didn't help the NAzi because they feared for their lives. It makes sense. However, the same argument can be made for many Germans. I was friends with a women whose father was a German soldier from WWI and her mother Ukrainian She told me stories of Hitler visiting the Ukraine and local residents cheering him. I am sure you love the Ukrainian people and they are a great people but not every Ukrainian is a saint and they could have been tricked by Hitler like many others. Perhaps too they saw Hitler and the German Army as a liberator from Russia and the Commu ists. Take it easy we Americans are quilty of crimes against the Natives but it does not stop us from being proud of our country.
20:33 January 6, 2010 by Teuton Suet
Can someone please post the current address of John Demjanjuk. Where is he being held? I wish to send him a Christian message of forgiveness, good health, good will for the coming New Year. I can also send money once I know where to send it.
Today's headlines
Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Mysterious German U-boat wreckage found off Scotland
Photo: ScottishPower

First World War U-boat "attacked by sea monster” thought to be found off Scottish coast.

Supermarket Edeka warns of exploding apple juice bottles
Photo: DPA

"Risk of injury" from "Gut und Günstig" sparkling apple juice bottles has forced Germany's largest supermarket to recall the product.

By wheelchair from Syria to Germany: teen's story of hope
Nujeen Mustafa. Photo: HarperCollins-William Collins Publicity/Private

She tackled the gruelling 2,000-kilometre migrant trail in a wheelchair, translating along the way for other refugees using English she learned from a US soap opera. Now this teen is living in Germany and hoping to inspire others with a newly published memoir.

Berlin Zoo to have a pair of pandas by next summer
A recently born panda pair at Vienna Zoo. Photo: DPA

The giant bamboo-eating bears will move into a brand new 5,000 square-metre enclosure in the capital's Zoologischer Garten.

Two new spider species discovered in Munich
Zoropsis spinimana. Photo: rankingranqueen / Wikimedia Commons

It's news every arachnophobe in Munich is no doubt thrilled to hear: two types of spider new to the region have been discovered in the Bavarian capital - and one of them bites!

After woman's body found in barrel, husband may walk free
Franziska S., who went missing 24 years ago. Photo: Hanover police.

A woman disappeared in Hanover 24 years ago, but no one reported her missing. Although her husband has now confessed to her murder, he still may not step foot in jail.

Two injured after army tank falls 50 metres in Alps
A Bundeswehr Puma tank. File photo: DPA

A Bundeswehr (German army) soldier has been severely injured after the tank he was riding in crashed 50 metres down an embankment after going off course in bad weather.

Teen girl stands trial for 'Isis' police stabbing in Hanover
Police guard the courthouse in Celle. Photo: DPA

A teenage girl stands trial from Thursday in Germany for stabbing a police officer, an assault allegedly "ordered" by Isis but which was not claimed by the jihadist group.

Merkel threatens Putin with more sanctions on Berlin visit
Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel created a united front with French President Francois Hollande in Berlin on Thursday to denounce Russia’s “war crimes” in Syria.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd