CLEVELAND — He was a man without a country, and even in death, John Demjanjuk continues to be the center of controversy.
The long legal battle over Demjanjuk’s past as a Nazi death camp guard ended Saturday, with his death at the age of 91 in a nursing home in Germany, where he was living as his attorneys appealed his conviction in 2011 of being an accessory to the murders of nearly 28,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
Demjanjuk’s attorney in Germany, Ulrich Busch, said it was his client’s “greatest wish” to be buried near his family in suburban Cleveland.
Cleveland immigration attorney David Leopold said there’s no legal way to prevent the burial in the U.S., but Leopold added, “I think it’s a moral question. Do we really want Cleveland to be the eternal resting place for a Nazi war criminal? Do we want anywhere in the United States to be the final resting place for a Nazi war criminal? When he was alive, he was deported for a reason, and I see no reason to reverse that now. In life and in death, I don’t think he has any place in this country.”
Demjanjuk’s church, St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, issued a statement that indicates the church believes evidence will eventually be uncovered that proves Demjanjuk was innocent.
According to the St. Vladimir statement, “during World War II, the invading Nazis forced hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and other Slavic people to serve as slave laborers, which they did in order to save their own lives. To label Mr. Demjanjuk or anyone who was forced to work for the Nazis as co-conspirators or to accuse them of volunteering to do work for the Nazis, is a distortion of historical facts.”
But David Leopold has a different view of John Demjanjuk’s place in history.
“What saddened me were the children who were thrown into the gas ovens in Treblinka and in Sobibor,” said Leopold. “And what saddened me was that John Demjanjuk, when he had the chance, didn’t say no.”