Lawyers for Deceased War Criminal Ask Ohio Appeals Court to Reinstate Citizenship

Lawyers for the late John Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian-born convicted Nazi war criminal, have petitioned the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to restore his citizenship. As we reported in this Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, an Ohio immigration judge declined to restore Demjanjuk’s citizenship in late 2011 after a German court convicted him as accessory to the murders of 27,900 Jews at three prison camps in Poland and Germany during World War II. The 91 year-old Demjanjuk died on March 17, 2012 in a nursing home in Germany, where he was awaiting the appeal of his conviction. His lawyers now argue that the government withheld documents that would have helped his immigration case.

The brief, filed on behalf of Demjanjuk’s estate on April 12, appeals the December 2011 refusal to reinstate his citizenship by denying a Rule 60 motion. Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court to correct or vacate a prior order based, among other grounds, on newly-discovered evidence that was not previously available. Demjanjuk’s lawyers allege that the government violated its discovery obligations and committed fraud on the court by failing to reveal relevant documents, pursuant both to Demjanjuk’s discovery requests and prior court sanctions. This deprived Demjanjuk’s lawyers of materials needed to mount his defense. Documents from the mid-1980’s, declassified by the FBI in 2010 or 2011, reportedly described some of the critical evidence used against Demjanjuk as likely forgeries of the KGB. Demjanjuk’s lawyers claim to have found hundreds of recently-declassified files containing material, exculpatory documents.

Demjanjuk faced prosecution for his involvement in the Holocaust for several decades in multiple countries. He first immigrated to the United States in 1952, and became a naturalized citizen in 1958. The U.S. revoked his citizenship in 1981 based on evidence that he provided false or misleading information on immigration applications regarding his past involvement with the Nazi Party. An Israeli court sentenced him to death in 1988 after witnesses identified him as “Ivan the Terrible,” an infamous guard at the Sobibor and Treblinka death camps. That sentence was overturned in 1993 based on evidence that government officials withheld evidence, and that witnesses mistook Demjanjuk for a different guard. Demjanjuk returned to the United States.

Another prosecution, commenced in Germany in 2001, alleged that Demjanjuk served as a guard during World War II at the Majdanek and Sobibor camps in Poland and the Flossenburg camp in Germany. The United States deported Demjanjuk to Germany in 2009, and he was convicted on 27,900 counts of accessory to murder in May 2011. He appealed his conviction and five-year prison sentence, but the court did not rule before his death.

Demjanjuk’s appeal is based on purely procedural grounds, arguing that the United States never should have revoked his citizenship in the first place because it did so on flawed or incomplete evidence. An interesting technicality of German law may help his estate’s case. Because the courts never heard his appeal before his death, his conviction was never finalized, so he is “technically presumed innocent.”

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the constantly-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us through our website or at (800) 625-3404.