That\’s an interesting trio

Obituaries »
John Demjanjuk
John Demjanjuk Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk dies aged 91

Soviet peasant turned US auto-worker accused of war crimes as Treblinka’s \’Ivan the Terrible’
His Holiness Shenouda III
His Majesty King George Tupou V of Tonga

The three obituaries linked on the Telegraph front page. A maybe, maybe not, concentration camp guard from WWII, the Coptic Pope and the King of Tonga.

No real point to make, just an interesting trio to be writing about at the sametime.

8 comments on “That\’s an interesting trio

  1. A maybe, maybe not, concentration camp guard from WWII

    I think pretty much everyone was agreed he was a concentration camp guard. The problem was which one – and so his conviction was probably spurious on legal grounds (he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt of being a much nastier guard after all) and yet probably just.

    The more interesting question is what moral guilt clung to him. It is easy to say he did terrible things – and he probably did. But he was recruited out of a PoW camp. The alternative was cannibalism and a slow death.

    Compare how his life turned out with some others. The Germans also recruited Jews to work in their Sonderkommandos to remove bodies from the gas chambers. Were they guilty? How about the Jewish policemen in ghettos like Warsaw’s?

    Some of the Ukrainians recruited by the Nazis were sent to more conventional units. Some of them were captured after the war and put to use clearing mines. As they could not be returned to the USSR, they stayed in the British Army clearing mines into the 1980s. They have a whole lot of things named after them by the Royal Engineers. Demjanjuk could have been sent there instead of to Trawniki. Just luck, well that’s not the right word, something, really.

    Primo Levi reported one of his characters say that in the camp you did anything to survive. I would hope we would all disagree, but as men died in their tens of thousands to make sure we don’t have to face that choice, I doubt we can properly understand those who did.

    I don’t think an injustice was done to this man, but in the end the only real solution will be a biological one – that is, they will all die – and with luck there will be judgement one day. But I doubt it.

  2. On the particular subject of Demjanjuk & his supposed war crimes, the whole business has always made me feel distinctly uneasy.
    A friend’s father had the ‘war crimes’ people sniffing around him but had the good fortune to die before it got as far as any trials.
    As very much a contemporary of Demjanjuk, the father begins his story as a lad in Lithuania when his country was forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 under the Molotov-Ribentrop pact. He was conscripted into the Red Army but later wounded & captured by the Germans. When he’d recovered sufficiently from his wounds got a choice, slave labour in a prisoner of war camp or become a camp guard. He chose the latter. In the confusion of the final days of the war, he deserted & was able to get himself to Austria, acquiring false documents as an ordinary German soldier. In a detention camp in the Allied zone he met a Russian woman prisoner, who he later married & the pair of them managed to avoid transfer to the Soviet Zone & the fate that awaited people like themselves. The Soviet concentration camps for returning POWs where so many died in appalling circumstances. He spent his later life as a miner in Northern England where he & his wife raised a family. He lived just long enough to know that his homeland had eventually returned to being an independent free country but never saw it again.
    What happened & what he did in the camps he never talked of. Maybe he was guilty of something. Maybe he wasn’t. But, sorry, I wouldn’t even try to pass judgement on the man. Would you?

  3. “No real point to make, just an interesting trio to be writing about at the sametime.”

    I think it’s because they all died about the same time.

  4. It was odd though that Demjanjuk got top billing, which he did in the paper. The Telegraph does pander terribly to the Nazis who read it.

  5. SMFS,

    “They have a whole lot of things named after them by the Royal Engineers. Demjanjuk could have been sent there instead of to Trawniki. Just luck, well that’s not the right word, something, really.”

    The Banality of Evil. Most of the acts of the reich were not caused by psychopaths and fanatics, but ordinary people accepting the rules of the state.

    If you sent back in time the sort of people that electronically tagged that old lady for selling a goldfish to a 14 year old, they’d be organising the trains to Auschwitz.

  6. ….If you sent back in time the sort of people that electronically tagged that old lady for selling a goldfish to a 14 year old, they’d be organising the trains to Auschwitz….

    Agreed, which is the whole point of fighting a rearguard action against the little tin pot dictators that want to rule our lives.

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