John Demanjuk was ordered deported. Something about lying about not being a prison guard in Poland during the Second World War, which ended 62 years ago, when President Obama was -16 years old. While not 100 percent clear from publicly available documents, it seems clear that Mr. Demanjuk cannot stay in the United states because he is unable to obtain a permanent residence visa in the United States through a family member after he was de-naturalized because he is inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(3)(E), someone who worked for the Nazis and participated in persecution. Mr. Demanjuk was previously accused of being Ivan the Terrible, a notorious guard at Treblinka, but the evidence of that did not hold up – the Israeli Supreme Court vacated a conviction for that when eye witness accounts of his being at Treblinka were discredited.
Mr. Demanjuk is 89 years old. He asserts that he is too sick to be deported and that deporting him will be torture – apparently because he will be traveling coach to Germany, which can be torture for even those younger and healthier than he.
It seems to me all this hubbub about punishing Mr. Demanjuk is misplaced. So he was a prison guard in World War II, about six U.S. wars ago, and one of three we won – assuming we place Panama and Grenada in the win category, Korea and the first Gulf War in the tie category, Vietnam in the loss category, and Iraq too early to call? [And we will not even consider the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror.] Mr. Demanjuk was obviously not a high placed figure. He was just following orders and probably did not have too much choice in his job search in war-torn Poland. You do not have to be a serious student of “Hogan’s Heroes” to know that his decision-making authority was rather limited as a rotund prison guard and probably easily outsmarted by a dapper American pilot, a French chef, a British conman, and an African-American techie. Any disobedience in his small cog role would have led to his transfer to the Russian Front. It seems imprudent to try the small fish that were just following orders they thought were legal.
No one asserts that Demanjuk had a more important role in the Holocaust. He was not a theoretician. He did not write legal memos advocating the German government’s right to incarcerate, torture, and kill people the government perceived as illegally in European countries and destroying their societies. And supposing he was the author of a memo or two advocating harsh treatment amounting to torture (and who is to say that stuffing people in ovens is torture?), should the government prosecute a lawyer or theoretician for giving his views about a policy issue? Certainly, this could impede the willingness of lawyers and theoreticians in the future to give advice on issues of the day to our political leaders.
Also, it is important to put this in context. Sure, in 2009 eyes, Nazi behavior seems extreme. But you have to remember in the 1940’s Germany was under siege on several fronts, including from Joseph Stalin, who had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and the United States and England, which were using military tactics of mass destruction (You do not have to be a student of “12 O’Clock High” of “Slaughterhouse Five” to know that), and were developing weapons of mass destruction in New Mexico to use against them. It is easy to be an arm chair quarterback with 20-20 hindsight.
Germany is now a respected member of the community of nations. Germans peacefully and efficiently reunited their country after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are a close ally and allow the United States to quarter troops on their soil. Their leaders acquiesce to our back-rubbing overtures. They provide us with status-symbol cars, and some dandy tunes (You do not have to be a student of “99 Luftballlons” to know that). Why look back 62 years and dredge up old policies which will just distract us from our current problems? Sometimes you need to just keep walking. It’s hard for me to look at a great nation picking on an 89 year old man without thinking, oh, not much good will come of that.