The Internationalization of Atrocity: John Demjanjuk and the Politics of Post-War Justice
Aubin, Claire E.
MetadataShow full item record
Aubin, Claire E.
In the years immediately following the Holocaust, the world attentively watched while infamous Nazis were tried at Nuremberg, some convicted of heinous crimes and some not. The world has, for the most part, not stopped watching since. Post-Holocaust war crimes trials have always been the subject of both political and legal controversies, and are often highly reflective of the changing nature of justice. One such set of trials, brought to near-immediate global attention in the 1980s, centered around the case of Ivan “John” Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian autoworker living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Demjanjuk became the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be denaturalized twice, the first accused Nazi extradited from the U.S. to Israel, and the accidental poster boy for the didactic capacity of the international legal system. He was also the subject of one of the most publicly botched investigations in U.S. history. The international character of the investigations, trials, and crimes of which Demjanjuk was accused were largely affected by post-war political climates, and are demonstrative of the complicated nature of war crimes trials. The Demjanjuk case calls into question the efficacy and redemptive abilities of a global legal system so tied to external political realities, as well as highlights the failures and strengths of that system as the arbiter of justice. These trials very clearly illustrate the difficulties faced by international legal bodies tasked with confronting the crimes of the Holocaust. This thesis examines the effects that political and social circumstances have on the development of a specific war crimes trial, while offering contextual information on the broader nature of post-war justice for the victims and perpetrators of atrocity. Primary and secondary source research were conducted for this project, through the use of both existing literature and archival documents.