by Allan Hall
John Demjanjuk was born Ivan on April 3,1920 in the small Ukrainian village of Dubovi Makharintsi and raised under Soviet rule.
As a young man he was employed as a farm worker due to his stocky frame.
With the dawn of the Second World War he joined the Red Army along with millions of his countrymen but was captured by Nazis in 1942.
Facing almost certain death in a PoW camp, he took a Nazi offer of staying alive by agreeing to work on a ‘special project’.
A file photograph showing a picture of the service certificate of Ivan John Demjanjuk, who received the identitiy card as ‘Watchman’ at his labour camp in Trawniki, Poland
He became a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland where a quarter of a million Jews were murdered.
The case against him involved 15 trains that arrived at Sobibor from Westerbork concentration camp in the Netherlands, carrying 28,060 people.
Demjanjuk was captured by the Americans in 1944 and became a prisoner of war – but revealed nothing of his role during the war years.
After marrying a fellow Ukrainian Vera Kowlowa in 1947, he worked for the Americans after the war driving a truck through Germany.
He registered to be recognised as a refugee and sailed to New York with his family in the 1950s and became an American citizen.
The couple had three children, Lydia, Irene and John Junior. He spent his life working as a mechanic at the Ford car plant in Cleveland, Ohio.
In the mid-70s, the family settled in the Seven Hills suburb, in a ranch-style house on a half-acre lot.
On the morning of August 25, 1977, John Demjanjuk was working at the factory as usual, when the storm broke that the U.S. attorneys wanted to strip him of his American citizenship for having been a suspected Nazi War criminal.
He was accused of being ‘Ivan the Terrible’ – a particularly sadistic guard at another Nazi death camp called Treblinka in Poland.
Israel extradited him to stand trial for his crimes there, found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
But during a five-year appeal process, it scoured the world for evidence and found that he was not in Treblinka but in Sobibor.
He was released and it was left to Germany to extradite him from America to stand trial in Munich.
Part of his trial, most of which he slept through while wearing a hat and dark glasses, involved the families of his victims talking about their loss.
He never displayed an ounce of emotion as they wept on the witness stand.
Ulrich Busch, his right-wing lawyer, enraged Jewish groups when he tried to equate his client’s suffering with the Jews in wartime.
‘Ukrainians like him were considered subhuman; Jews, Ukrainians or Gypsies did not count’ for the Nazis, he told the court.