Demjanjuk Regains U.S. Citizenship

A federal judge on Friday restored the U.S. citizenship of John Demjanjuk, the man that the Justice Department had charged with hiding his past as a monstrous Nazi death-camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible."

A spokesman for Demjanjuk's family said Demjanjuk was grateful for the ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul R. Matia.

"We're thankful to the court in its decision to reinstate Mr. Demjanjuk's citizenship," said Ed Nishnic, Demjanjuk's son-in-law. "This case has been ongoing for 21 years and we're growing tired of fighting and would like to start putting all of our lives back together."

"The decision in this historic case in no way shape or form minimizes the horrors inflicted upon the victims of Ivan the Terrible or the Holocaust and may their souls rest in peace."

Demjanjuk, 77, who resides in the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills, was stripped of his citizenship in 1981 and was extradited to Israel in 1986. He was accused of being a Nazi war criminal who operated the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942-43, during World War II.

He was convicted in Israel in 1988 of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. But his conviction was overturned on appeal.

In 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court freed him, ruling that Demjanjuk was not the Treblinka guard called Ivan the Terrible. The five Israeli justices said there was evidence that Demjanjuk had been a Nazi guard, but the reason he was brought to Israel was strictly on the Treblinka charge.

What cleared Demjanjuk then was new evidence from Nazi records seized by Russia during the war that Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka was named Ivan Marchenko.

Demjanjuk has stayed out of the public eye and has sought to restore his citizenship since returning to the United States shortly after the Israeli judicial panel freed him.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati previously ruled that the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations had used fraud in its initial case against Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian refugee who had been a Ford plant worker.

Matia, while acknowledging the extreme complexity of the case, rejected the department's argument that enough evidence exists showing Demjanjuk was a Nazi death camp guard during the war that the 1981 decision against him should be ruled valid.

Matia ruled there was evidence that the Office of Special Investigations possessed in 1981 that could have been used in Demjanjuk's defense but was kept from him. Among the evidence was an interview the government conducted with a man who had been at Trawniki, a Nazi camp where Demjanjuk allegedly was trained.

Matia said OSI lawyers acted "with reckless disregard for their duty to the court" in Demjanjuk's case.

Matia vacated the 1981 judgment against Demjanjuk without prejudice, meaning the Justice Department, if it so chooses, could again see to strip Demjanjuk of his citizenship. Matia said his ruling was based on legal procedures, not Demjanjuk's personal history.

Eli M. Rosenbaum, OSI's director, said the government will review the matter and decide whether to refile its case against Demjanjuk. No one who handled the Demjanjuk case initially is now with the office.

Written by M.R.Kropko ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed