iOS app Android app More

GET UPDATES FROM Dorian de Wind
 

I Will Shed No Tears for John Demjanjuk

Posted: 05/13/11 08:15 AM ET

In an article benignly titled "The 'Road to Heaven' at Sobibor" almost exactly two years ago, I wrote about a photograph accompanying an article in the Dutch NRC Handelsblad published around that time.

It was the photo of "a blissful, peaceful, country path bordered on both sides by tall pine trees."

A path that was described in the newspaper as a "reflection lane," a path that roughly coincides with a path previously known as the "Himmelfahrtstrasse," or road to heaven.

A path that now leads to Stara Kolonia Sobibór, according to the article: "a typical Polish hamlet, where clean washing flutters in the wind, farmers on old tractors rumble by and lumbermen lug tree trunks."

But soon enough the reader realizes that, 68 years ago, this idyllic-looking "road to heaven" led to the five gas chambers of the Nazi death camp of Sobibor located deep in the forests in the Lublin district of South-Eastern Poland.

Gas chambers where about 250,000 Jewish men, women and children were systematically exterminated -- more than 34,000 of them Dutch.

After doing some research, I found out that a dozen or so of my relatives' lives ended tragically at Sobibor.

But Sobibor wasn't the only Nazi death camp. There were other camps. Camps with now-chilling, sinister names like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and Belzec. Another 112 de Wind's were murdered at some of these camps.

There is a unique and powerful "Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands," a virtual monument dedicated to preserving the memory of all the Dutch men, women and children who were persecuted as Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and who did not survive the Holocaust, the Shoah.

In the "de Wind list" at the Monument, one can find the birthplaces and the ages of most of the 124 de Wind victims -- some as old as 92 and some as young as 14 -- a significant portion of an entire de Wind generation. An uncle's family tree documents several other very young de Wind victims of the Holocaust -- one as young as five!

So perhaps it will be clear why I did not shed a tear, why I do not feel any pity and why I experienced some closure when I heard that John Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor, was found guilty by a German court of taking part in the murder of more than 28,000 Jews, including my relatives, at that death camp in World War II.

The presiding German judge said: "The court is convinced that the defendant... served as a guard at Sobibor from 27 March 1943 to mid-September 1943... As guard he took part in the murder of at least 28,000 people."

Ukraine-born Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison, one year less than prosecutors had asked for. However, the 91-year-old retired Ohio autoworker will be released pending an appeal -- a process that could take a long time.

The judge feels that Demjanjuk, who was expelled from the U.S. exactly two years ago, poses no flight risk because of his advanced age and poor health -- and because he is stateless following his expulsion.

Reactions to the verdict are mixed. According to the BBC:

World Jewish Congress spokesman Michael Thaidigsmann responded by saying: "For us the important thing is that he got convicted. It's not up to an organisation like us to say whether he should be in jail or not."


But the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff, while describing the conviction as "a very important victory for justice", said he was "very surprised" by the decision to free Demjanjuk.

"We don't think that that's appropriate given the heinous nature of his crimes," he said.


I have already given my reaction. I think justice has been done.

While a five-year sentence may sound excessive for a 91-year-old man, I cannot ignore nor forget the fact that, because of monsters like Demjanjuk, a 5-year-old de Wind -- and thousands upon thousands of other toddlers -- never had the chance to even reach the age of nine...