Buchanan Is Wrong About Demjanjuk

I did not stay on top of the 1991 brouhaha involving Patrick J. Buchanan, William F. Buckley, Jr., and allegations of anti-Semitism, so I cast my vote for Pat in the 1992 GOP Presidential primary with a clear conscience. I’m 62, and I have voted in every election for which I was eligible save one county primary. That 1992 vote is the only one I ever cast that I’d pay serious money to have back.

Full disclosure: I have Ukrainian and Jewish blood, although the latter may go back a millennium or more. Of my seven oldest friends, three and one half are Jews. (One of my college roommates has a Methodist mother.) I was raised Catholic and consider myself a Deist. The only mainstream religion I have any use for is Reform Judaism. Like Churchill, I believe that, “We owe to the Jews a system of ethics which, even it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together.” I am a Zionist in the same sense that he was. Not that Buchanan admires Churchill; according to his 2008 book, he and FDR were responsible for World War II — not Hitler.

I used to be troubled by his apparent anti-Semitism and his blatantly anti-Israel stands. I am no longer because I pay no attention to him. This saddens me because, like Bill Buckley himself, “I’m pro-Buchananism, absent this particular anomaly.”

You will be relieved to know that the limitations of space and my own boredom with his “Little Johnny One-Note” bigotry prevent me from recapitulating the abominable record he has compiled since the early ‘90s. It’s all there for the asking by tapping a few of the keys in front of you now. Similarly, the convoluted and tortuous saga of John Demjanjuk is also available to you. I will limit myself primarily to Buchanan’s defense of Demjanjuk that appeared in these pages a few weeks ago.

Demjanjuk was convicted of war crimes committed during the Holocaust and sentenced to death in Israel in 1988. The Israeli Supreme Court subsequently reversed his conviction and in a virtually unprecedented opinion acquitted him and dismissed the charges, declaring that he could not be proven by available credible evidence to be “Ivan the Terrible” of the Treblinka death camp, a guard whose brutality was extraordinarily savage even by Nazi standards. I am certain that there are no pro-Nazis on the Court. He was returned to the United States and his naturalized citizenship was restored. Now 89 years old, he is pending deportation to Germany to be prosecuted there for similar atrocities committed at Sobibor in Poland, the site of one of only two successful uprisings by concentration camp prisoners during World War II. Buchanan’s latest defense of him consists in large part of misstatements of fact compounded by ignorance.

Demjanjuk fought for the Red Army and was captured by German forces. It is not clear to me whether he was pressed into the service of the Nazis or volunteered. Grant him that as a Ukrainian he was considered by them to be an Untermensch, only a half step or so up the evolutionary ladder from the hated Jews. Many Slavs served the Nazis, as did some Jews, because the alternative was to be shot or gassed themselves. But the diesel mechanic from Detroit via Dubovi Makharintsi has some explaining to do.

He admits that he bears a scar caused by the removal of his SS tattoo. When he applied for entry into the United States in 1951, he listed Sobibor as a prior residence. I have read that during World War II, Sobibor, aside from the concentration camp, was nothing more than a railroad halt. Demjanjuk first claimed that he picked it at random from a map, and then said a fellow immigrant recommended that he list Sobibor because there were a lot of Ukrainians there at the time. You bet there were — and Jews, too, as well as Russian POWs. Yes, desperate times provoke desperate measures. My Hungarian grandfather was almost deported as an enemy alien during World War II. He was a machinist for Westinghouse, which intervened on his behalf saying his employment was part of the war effort. Rattled by the experience, he lied on his naturalization papers, which I have. He listed “Czechoslovakian” as his prior citizenship. I do not know whether he came up with the idea himself or if Westinghouse — or a fellow immigrant — recommended the perjury.

Buchanan claims that Germany needs a Slav to prosecute for war crimes because a 1969 law granted amnesty to all Germans for war crimes committed during the Holocaust.

Huh? Why does Germany need anyone to prosecute?

And the fact is that a 1968 law made the prosecution of war crimes in Germany more difficult but granted no one amnesty for them. Google “Joseph Scheungraber.” This former German infantry officer is now on trial in Munich for the murder of 15 Italian civilians in 1944. So, Pat, take a deep breath and count to ten. Could it be that the Germans are actually committed to . . . justice?

But the most alarming bit of twisted nonsense in Buchanan’s spluttering essay is his attempt to elevate Demjanjuk to the level of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the French Army officer twice falsely prosecuted for treason because he was a Jew — a status that is not malum in se, regardless of what the author thinks. Demjanjuk faces prosecution for what he is alleged to have done to Jews merely because they were Jews, while working not merely for the Nazis but as an SS stooge, a status reviled by all civilized people.

Buchanan called his outburst The True Haters. He left me on tenterhooks trying to figure out who they are, so I ask him now, publicly: Are the true haters the Jews, the Nazis, their apologists? Perhaps they are anyone who supports Israel’s absolute right to exist and the right of any enlightened nation to bring accused war criminals before the bar of justice. Henri Philippe Petain was already a doddering old fool when he was coerced into heading the Nazis’ Vichy government in France. He was tried for treason after the war and sentenced to death. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at the Ile d’Yeu prison on a barren island off the Atlantic coast of France. He died there in 1951, aged 95 — senile, infirm, and requiring constant care. Harsh justice? Yes, but justice indeed, and so it must be with Demjanjuk if he is proved guilty.

Buchanan offers not even a cursory explanation for the web of contradictions in Demjanjuk’s fluid version of events. He dismisses as forgeries documents provided by the Russians that support the prosecution’s claims but says not the first word about a motive and provides no evidence of forgery. His days as a commentator and analyst are over. He now uses the language of an hysterical fanatic: Demjanjuk has been “relentlessly pursued and remorselessly persecuted” and will now be taken to the “home of the Third Reich . . . to serve as the sacrificial lamb.” The case against him is a fabrication by the Office of Special Investigations and “its old comrades in the KGB.” His prosecution is composed of “the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary . . . 2,000 years ago.” It did not take a great American like Bill Buckley to consign someone like Buchanan to “the fever swamps of the right.” He’s done it to himself. He has the political equivalent of road rage.

I have an e-acquaintance with a Jew of great accomplishment and distinction. You would recognize his name. Decades ago he and Buchanan were close. A while back I wrote to him saying how much I used to admire Buchanan and asking if he believed he was truly an anti-Semite. He replied:

“Joe: Pat is a lost soul.”