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Justice Department News Conference on Accused Nazi Official

Aired February 21, 2002 - 11:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to get some more on this sorry about John Demjanjuk, the man who had been accused in the past of being a Nazi camp guard. He's been denying that charge throughout the years in U.S. courts, and courts here have been trying to strip him of his U.S. citizenship. That may have happened this morning.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, CRIMINAL DIVISION: ... since it began operations in 1979. The fact that it has taken more than 20 years to secure this victory demonstrates that the United States government and the Department of Justice will continue to leave no stone unturned in pursuing justice on behalf of the millions of victims of Nazi crimes against humanity.

And I might point out that it illustrates a larger principle, that the Department of Justice will spend whatever time and effort is necessary for however many years to pursue those commit crimes against humanity, whether they take place 30, 40, 50 years ago or 10, 20, 30 days ago.

I'm going to now introduce Eli Rosenbaum who has a few statements, and then we'll take questions.

ELI ROSENBAUM, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS: Thank you, Chief.

The Sobibor extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland was as close an approximation of Hell as has ever been created on this planet. Some 250,000 men, women and children were murdered and incinerated there as part of the Hitler regime's plot to physically eliminate all of the world's Jews.

On October 14, 1943, in one of the most remarkable escapes in recorded history, emaciated inmates somehow overpowered their armed captors and broke through the electrified fence. About 100 of them managed to avoid the land mines around the camp and escape into the woods. Only about 50 of these poor souls managed to survive World War II; just 50 people out a quarter of a million human beings.

John Demjanjuk served the SS as a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp and also at the Majdanek and Flossenburg concentration camps and elsewhere.

Ignac Donald Chenko (ph), who served with him at both Sobibor and Flossenburg, recalled seeing Demjanjuk and other guards, quote, "push Jews with rifle butts and hit them," close quote, as they were unloaded from the freight trains that brought them to Sobibor.

He further recalled seeing Demjanjuk, quote-unquote, "armed with a rifle," quote, "escort people until they reached the gas chamber to prevent violations by the prisoners of the procedure in which they were sent to be killed."

Today, thousands of miles away from Sobibor and the other Nazi camps, John Demjanjuk has been stripped of his ill-gotten U.S. citizenship after a federal trial in which the wartime misdeeds he worked so very hard to conceal were proved beyond dispute.

Chief Judge Matia specifically found that Demjanjuk served the Nazis willingly, as Mr. Chertoff said, and that at Sobibor he, quote, "contributed to the process by which thousands of Jews were murdered by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide." That's finding 132.

The court found for the government on all three counts of our complaint, crediting the veritable mountain of evidence that the government offered at trial. Chief Judge Matia turned that evidence, quote, unquote, "devastating to Demjanjuk's defenses." That's page two of the supplemental opinion.

The investigation and prosecution of this case was a massive undertaking that required OSI staff to locate and pour over tens of thousands of mostly foreign-language documents, mostly unindexed, that are scattered in archives in Europe, Israel and the United States. The case was aggressively defended by very able trial counsel.

That we succeeded in proving Demjanjuk wartime activities and his postwar fraud, despite the passage of so many years and despite the many obstacles that the Demjanjuk team placed in our way, including the destruction of evidence, that we did that is a tribute to the Justice Department team of lawyers, historians and paralegals that work very long, very difficult hours over the past three years.

OSI Principal Deputy Director Susan Siegel, OSI trial attorneys Ed Stutman, Jonathan Drimmer and Michelle Heyer, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anne Johnson in Cleveland did a magnificent job of prosecuting this case.

HARRIS: We have been listening to Justice Department officials in Washington who are talking about the case of John Demjanjuk, a man who has been accused off and on over the years of being Ivan the Terrible, that rather notorious Nazi prison camp guard at the infamous Treblinka camp. And he ended up being cleared of being Ivan the Terrible in Israel in a trial there when new information came back in 1993. After that, he came back to the United States.

But in this particular case, his U.S. citizenship has been revoked because he has been accused of actually entering the U.S. illegally. The U.S. court there was -- the attorneys we were just listening to there -- put a case together where they were saying he had entered the United States illegally after World War II. And Demjanjuk and his attorneys never prove exactly where he was, and the United States had plenty of evidence of him being one of these Nazi prison camp guards.

Now it appears that his citizenship has been revoked. He is supposed to turn over his passport within ten days, and after that point, he is supposed to leave the country. There is also a case here, actually, arrangements being made for an appeal in this case as well. So perhaps this is not the end of the story.

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