JERUSALEM — JOHN DEMJANJUK, sentenced to death by an Israeli court for Nazi war crimes, began a three-day hunger strike yesterday to protest the delay in a ruling on his appeal, his lawyer said.
Yoram Sheftel said Mr. Demjanjuk would refuse food for three days to revive public interest in his case in order "to make it not too comfortable to continue withholding a decision."
The Supreme Court hearing on Demjanjuk's appeal of his conviction for being "Ivan the Terrible," the brutal operator of the gas chamber at the Treblinka death camp in Poland, ended nearly nine months ago. Recalling that the court that sentenced Demjanjuk in 1988 took only two months to reach a decision, Mr. Sheftel charges that his client, who has now been in jail here for seven years, is subject to a double standard.
"When it seems he can be convicted, we have a speedy decision," Sheftel said. "When it is obvious he has to be released, everyone takes his time."
Justice Ministry spokes-woman Etty Eshed, responding to the accusations, said, "Pressure and threats such as those which are being employed by Demjanjuk's counsel are unacceptable and have no place in a progressive state.
"The Supreme Court is currently preparing its decision, and will hand it down upon its completion," she added. She could not say when that might be.
Since Demjanjuk was extradited from the United States and convicted, after a heavily publicized year-long trial, of being the sadistic Treblinka guard who tortured Jewish victims as they were herded into the gas chamber, new evidence has emerged to suggest that another man was "Ivan the Terrible."
Files found in recently opened Soviet archives included 80 statements by former Treblinka guards who identified a man called Ivan Marchenko as the real "Ivan the Terrible." Marchenko disappeared at the end of World War II. At the original trial, five Jewish survivors of Treblinka had identified the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, a former Cleveland autoworker, as "Ivan."
"The only question before the judges is who they believe, the five survivors or the guards," said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"The Supreme Court just has to rule whether the 80 statements raise reasonable doubts [about Demjanjuk's guilt] or not," Sheftel countered. He accused the Supreme Court of delaying its judgment because the ruling "will not be very pleasant to the legal establishment."
The case is complicated by the prosecution's recent discovery of German documents suggesting that while Demjanjuk may not have been at Treblinka, he may have been a guard at Sobibor, another death camp for Jews in Poland. Having been extradited on one charge, however, he cannot now be tried on another.
Demjanjuk, who passes his time reading papers, doing gymnastics, and listening to the Russian language radio station for new immigrants, according to Sheftel, is launching his protest as "a warning hunger strike.... He does not want to shoot everything in his possession at one time."
Sheftel did not say what further protests his client planned if a judgment is not rendered quickly.