This week Anna tells us about Rap Mom, Hannah gets very heated about mince pies, we chat about why you shouldn’t fall into a river with a backpack full of arms and Prince Andrew’s interview, review The Devil Next Door, and discuss when exactly is a life term prison sentence actually over. Phew, that’s a lot!
The Devil Next Door
The Devil Next Door is a five part Netflix documentary following the trials of John Demjanjuk, a man first accused of being a notorious Nazi death camp gas chamber operator – Ivan the Terrible – and latterly, a guard at the notorious Sobibor camp.
Demjanjuk, originally from the Ukraine, immigrated to the United States in 1952. He worked in a Ford automotive factory and had a seemingly quiet life in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. In the 1970s, he was accused of being a Trawniki man, which to put loosely, were men from prisoner of war camps, trained by the German police and the SS to be collaborators for the Nazis. They were trained at a facility at Trawniki (hence the name) and were often posted to work in concentration camps.
But, it came as a shock to his friends and family, that some 30 years later Demjanjuk was deported to Israel where he stood accused crimes against humanity. His US citizenship is also revoked.
The first parts of the documentary follow his trial in Israel and it pivots on his identity. It is, as you would image fraught and emotive. Evidence comes in the shape of an ID card from the Trawniki training camp and eyewitness testimony from those who survived the utter horror of these camps. They allegedly identify him as Ivan the Terrible, a true monster of man who would terrorise and beat Jewish prisoners on their way into the gas chambers in an extremely cruel fashion. Demjanjuk said that it was a case of mistaken identity but couldn’t really explain where he was sufficiently during the time period. He says he was a prisoner of war.
One of Demjanjuk’s defence lawyers, Yoram Sheftel, gives a lot of interviews and he is a controversial character to say the least. He only just hides his delight at being part of the trial – almost lapping up the attention lavished on him (despite it being negative). At one point, he takes a lie detector test and one of the questions is ‘do you think he is guilty’, he responds no and the lie detector determines that was a lie. He seems non-plussed by this.
Sheftel attacks the credibility of the witnesses and is even told off by the judges during the trial due to his actions. He even turns his client against the US lawyer working for him, who is eventually kicked off the case so Sheftel can be top-dog.
Demanjuk is found guilty and sentenced to death but appeals the conviction. The guilty verdict is overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court as there was reasonable doubt that he was in fact Ivan the Terrible. Following this acquittal in 1993, he returns to Ohio.
In 1998, his US citizenship is restored but just over a year later, a new complaint is brought against Demanjuk. This alleges that he was a guard at Sobibor and Majdenek camps which were situated in German occupied Poland. He loses his US citizenship for a second time in 2002 and is eventually deported to Germany in 2009 and faced tens of thousands counts of accessory to murder.
He portrays himself as this elderly and frail man when he picked up in the US and his deportation is initially held on this basis as he sought to be protected under the United Nations Convention against Torture as his family allege that transporting him to Germany, in his current physical state, would kill him. Yet the day before he was picked up in the US, he was seen getting in and out of a car unaided, walking unaided and laughing with family. He carries on with his charade and is filmed in the German court room in a wheelchair, with his eyes closed and mouth agape, twitching.
He found fit to stand trial in June 2009, charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder in July 2009, and found guilty in May 2011, aged 91. He was sentenced to five years in prison but released from custody pending appeal. He had already served two years in prison in Germany during trial, and eight years in Israel.
He died in Germany in March of 2012 and as he died before his appeal could proceed, he is technically ‘legally innocent’.