A eu­logy for John Dem­jan­juk

Kyiv Post - - Opinion - UL­RICH BUSCH

I am not here to hold a lec­ture on the case of John Dem­jan­juk, or to crit­i­cize once again the United States, Is­rael and Ger­many for the fact that they caused more than 40 years of un­speak­able suf­fer­ing and in­jus­tice for John, or to de­tail how Ger­many mis­used John and about 30 Jewish peo­ple from the Nether­lands, who were vic­tims of Ger­man cru­elty dur­ing the Nazi time, for an il­le­gal po­lit­i­cal show trial. I am sim­ply here with the de­sire to say a last good­bye and farewell to John.

Dur­ing the last three years of his life, while I was at his side, John Dem­jan­juk was the fo­cus of my pro­fes­sional life as a crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer in Ger­many. But that was not all. There was so much more.

I will never for­get our first meet­ing in the Stadel­heim prison in Mu­nich. He was sit­ting in a wheel­chair, pushed by an of­fi­cer into the vis­it­ing room of the prison, dressed in a sweater with holes and faded sweat­pants. We greeted each other for the first time and spoke in English. John knew my wife, also a Pani (Mrs.) Vera like his wife, of Ukrainian de­scent. He asked me about my lan­guage skills in Ukrainian, an em­bar­rass­ing ques­tion for me be­cause I was al­ways too lazy – de­spite nearly 40 years of mar­riage – to learn this dif­fi­cult lan­guage. I had al­ways fol­lowed the prin­ci­ple, bor­sht tastes de­li­cious but is too dif­fi­cult to pro­nounce.

Nev­er­the­less, I passed John’s lan­guage test with an A. Namely, I could read­ily sing and re­cite the pray­ers of the Ukrainian Catholic liturgy since my child­hood be­cause my fa­ther loved the East­ern Church pray­ers and songs. He took me very of­ten on Sun­days to Mass at a Ukrainian monastery near my home­town.

I said to John, I can pray in Ukrainian but ev­ery­thing else “duzhe malo” (very lit­tle). He an­swered, “Then let us pray to­gether, Our Fa­ther.” I said, OK fine. And so we prayed Our Fa­ther in Ukrainian. That was the be­gin­ning of our time to­gether. We sub­or­di­nated our fu­ture un­der the pro­tec­tion and will of our com­mon cre­ator. This was a won­der­ful way to start the le­gal bat­tle be­cause we knew it would take all our ef­forts to sur­vive and fight against the pow­er­ful en­e­mies, namely, re­venge, re­tal­i­a­tion, blind rage, forgery, fraud, cor­rup­tion and the per­ver­sion of jus­tice.

By the way, af­ter pass­ing the first lan­guage test, John never asked me to take an­other.

The le­gal bat­tle be­gan. It lasted nearly two years and more than 90 days in a court­room. There was no doubt that John would be con­victed as there was no doubt that the ver­dict was al­ready es­tab­lished be­fore the trial had even started. The me­dia and prose­cu­tors made John into Hitler and Stalin as one per­son. He, not Ger­many, was sud­denly re­spon­si­ble for the Ger­man mur­ders of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jewish peo­ple and the destruc­tion of Euro­pean Jewry. John was made into Nazi mur­derer and war beast in one.

In April of 2011, John had his 91st birth­day. Dur­ing this time, the trial was held in the

Mu­nich Jus­tice Palace to give the Jewish co-plain­tiffs an arena for their bizarre and hyp­o­crit­i­cal ac­cu­sa­tions against John in a his­toric set­ting. But, then some­thing hap­pened dur­ing a break in the hear­ing. John was be­ing moved down the hall and sud­denly a voice was singing Mno­haya Lita (many years) to John. It was my wife who was con­grat­u­lat­ing John on his birth­day.

But the song was heard by the coplain­tiffs too who had just called John a ter­ri­ble hench­man of Hitler a few mo­ments ago. A storm of in­dig­na­tion broke out. How could some­body dare to wish and sing that the devil, the worst vil­lain of all vil­lains, should have a long and happy life? Such a beast can­not have a birth­day. Such a vil­lain should hang from the gal­lows and not earn health and many years. The press re­ported the scan­dal with big head­lines. The pres­i­dent of the Dis­trict Court warned me and an­nounced that he would ban my wife from the court­house if she at­tempted to do such a thing again.

My wife had some­how taken care of John as much as was pos­si­ble un­der his cir­cum­stances of be­ing in­car­cer­ated. With her nat­u­ral and spe­cial Ukrainian hu­mor and laugh­ter, she man­aged to some­times turn him away from his pain and grief. If Pani Vera spoke to him or held his hand, you could see a smile in his eyes.

The birth­day song and the fu­ri­ous re­ac­tion of the co-plain­tiffs to this sim­ple gesture of hu­man­ity had an ef­fect. For us, John was def­i­nitely no longer just a client, he had be­come in some way part of our fam­ily. We liked him and felt re­spon­si­ble for him. When he was feel­ing al­right, we felt al­right. And when he be­came a free man on May 12, 2011 upon his re­lease from prison, we were sim­ply happy. Some­how he was al­ways with us, even though he lived hun­dreds of miles away in a nurs­ing home.

I have said these words be­cause they il­lus­trate some­thing very spe­cial. John Dem­jan­juk was a won­der­ful per­son, a gen­tle man, a fine old gentleman. The longer you knew him, you sim­ply came to love him. He made our time to­gether rich and pre­cious. John’s fate shows us that the apoc­a­lypse of the Holo­caust can hap­pen eas­ily again when hate, re­venge and re­tal­i­a­tion are the mo­ti­vat­ing forces of hu­man ac­tion. Peace be­tween peo­ple and na­tions can only be achieved through af­fec­tion, brother­hood, fair­ness, love and un­der­stand­ing.

John, you have en­riched our lives. We will never for­get you. Good­bye John. May the Lord shine His eter­nal light upon John and give him eter­nal rest in peace. Vich­naya Pamyat!

Ul­rich Busch was de­fense at­tor­ney in Ger­many for John Dem­jan­juk, who died on March 17 while ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion for be­ing an ac­ces­sory to the mur­der of 28,000 Jews as a camp guard in So­bi­bor, Poland, dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion and Holo­caust.

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