The John Demjanjuk letter to Mrs Helen Raycheba, which is the subject of this paper, is placed within the following key events of his seven-year-seven-month imprisonment in Israel, which is how long it took Israeli Justice to conclude that it was not Ivan Demjanjuk but Ivan Marchenko who really was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. If any doubt exists that John Demjanjuk's ordeal deserves to be thought of as Kafkaesque, then such doubt will be banished upon the recollection that the Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka for whose crimes John Demjanjuk narrowly escaped being hanged is an imaginary being that historians of the Holocaust, and more generally historians of the Second World War, unanimously refuse to credit in their writings, as is detailed in BLURB BIOGRAPHY.
|28 Feb 1986||US Marshalls deliver a handcuffed John Demjanjuk at Ben Gurion airport|
|SEVEN MONTHS LATER|
|01 Oct 1986||John Demjanjuk relocated to Adolf Eichmann's cell in Ayalon Prison|
|ONE YEAR AND SEVEN MONTHS LATER|
|25 Apr 1988||John Demjanjuk sentenced to death by Jerusalem trial court|
|TWO MONTHS LATER|
|22 Jun 1988||John Demjanjuk letter to Mrs Helen Raycheba reproduced below|
|FIVE YEARS LATER|
|Jun 1993||John Demjanjuk photo reproduced below with Demjanjuk still on death row|
|ONE MONTH LATER|
|29 Jul 1993||Israeli Supreme court overturns decision of trial court|
|TWO MONTHS LATER|
|22 Sep 1993||John Demjanjuk put aboard an El Al flight to New York|
The photograph below shows John Demjanjuk in his cell in Ayalon prison in June 1993, after he had been in Israeli captivity for 7 years and 4 months, and after he had been on death row for 5 years and 2 months. As, at the time of the photograph, it was increasingly beginning to look like the Israeli Supreme court might bow to overwhelming world protest to overturn John Demjanjuk's conviction (and which was overturned a month or so after the picture was taken), the Israelis helped him to transform the appearance of his cell from that of an animal cage into that of a teenager's bedroom, at which time they took photos aiming the camera not at the wall of naked bars across the face of the cell, but between the bars, such that the photo does not even seem to be of a prison cell. Also not visible in the photo is the light bulb glaring down on John Demjanjuk 24 hours a day, nor the video camera trained on him at all times.
As John Demjanjuk's cell is neither heated nor air conditioned, he freezes in winter and swelters in summer, and as it is June in the photo, he can be seen to have stripped down to essentials, and to be sweating from the desert heat.
And however hard it is to keep the pounds off when one is free to mow lawns and walk to the corner store and throw the ball for the dog and romp with grandchildren, being locked in a prison cell makes it harder.
And so what the Israelis create by way of cell and by way of prisoner, they photograph, and then they distribute this photograph showing Adolf Eichmann's cell at its finest, as if something like this was what John Demjanjuk had been enjoying over the previous seven years and four months, and even as if he lived uncontained by bars, but at the same time showing John Demjanjuk not at his finest, as if this is what he was by inclination or choice, rather than what they had made him — unkempt, sweating, and overweight.
And it is such images as this that the media disseminate as if they fairly depict John Demjanjuk, and images such as those showing him with strange or inappropriate expressions on his face, the defamers trusting that the public will be taken in by their trick of publishing least flattering pictures to make someone look absurd, by which trick anyone can be victimized.
And what does the press allow the people to know about John Demjanjuk's personal characteristics beyond such defamatory images? Not much! John Demjanjuk is represented as if he lacked the power of speech. The media never quotes him, except perhaps once in a long while to repeat some exclamation, as of his dismay upon being sentenced to death. They make it seem as if he has nothing to say, or as if he is incapable of saying it. And certainly they never quote anything he has written, as if he never writes.
A COMPOSED JOHN DEMJANJUK|
IMPRISONED IN ADOLF EICHMANN'S CELL
DESCRIBING REAL INJUSTICE
Israel, 1993: Demjanjuk in his cell at Ayalon Prison. Demjanjuk had been sentenced to death following his conviction of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a verdict that was eventually overturned on appeal which allowed him to return to the United States.
A FRAZZLED FRANZ KAFKA|
AT LIBERTY IN HIS OWN LODGINGS
DESCRIBING IMAGINARY INJUSTICE
Franz Kafka by Robert Crumb
But behind this caricature of John Demjanjuk there exists a human being, a decent man possessed of intelligence, fighting to survive and to maintain his dignity under a relentless onslaught, and that human being can be seen in the above photograph standing where he could sit because standing keeps the blood flowing and the muscles from atrophying. And that human being does have a voice, and he does write. What does he happen to be writing in that very picture? Undoubtedly a letter. One of his few solaces during his years of solitary confinement is correspondence. Some of it arrives on cards, which he mounts on his walls as space permits. And below is an example of one of his own letters, one of the two whose handwriting is analyzed in FORGED AND OBLITERATED. It is dated 22 June 1988, which comes two months after he was sentenced to death. While writing his letter, he does not know that he still has five years and one month more to endure in his cell before the Israeli Supreme Court decides that he was not the imaginary Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka after all — that some other Ukrainian, conveniently a dead one without power to object, really had been the imaginary Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka — and he does not know that he will have to endure two months beyond that before he will be put on an El Al plane bound for New York.
John Demjanjuk lives through a nightmare worse than anything Franz Kafka ever imagined, and through it all he reads and he writes. What education he might have enjoyed had fate placed him in a happier time or locale has been disrupted by the Kremlin starving his people in the Holodomor, and then by two totalitarian monsters, Hitler and Stalin, warring for the right to enslave his native land — because of which disruption his writing lacks educated polish, and yet to some it may seem of greater interest than Kafka's, because Kafka writes of imagined nightmares, hyperbolizations of what he has experienced, whereas Demjanjuk writes of experienced nightmares, and he writes in understatement of what he has experienced, in understatement because every word he writes is read by watchers who have life-and-death power over him, and who itch to exercise that power.
Reading John Demjanjuk's letter below removes the image of him as mindless and passive, and replaces that image with the recognition that he is quick-witted and decisive, not only in his manner of ridding himself of the obligation of wearing handcuffs during his exercise outings, but also in his manner of addressing a sympathetic reader. Quick-witted and decisive, and courageous too — as evidenced by his accusation against hanging-Judge Levin, when he must have been aware that the accusation could be held against him by his captors — courageous as befits an inheritor of the tradition of Mazepa and Khmelnytsky and Shevchenko.
The addressee of John Demjanjuk's letter is Helen Raycheba:
A translation of John Demjanjuk's letter which he wrote two months after receiving his death sentence, and five years before the above disinformation photo of him was taken:
Israel 22 June 1988
Most esteemed and cherished Mrs Raycheba!
inapplicable to me because I find myself in a room which one may call a cage which measures 3 x 3 meters, and your letting me out consists of putting me into another cage, this one measuring 4 x 9 1/2 meters. Three guards accompany me, and two cameras monitor my every move. And on top of that you want me to wear handcuffs. On such an outing I will not go. He replied that he too was against enforcing this directive in my case and phoned his superiors in Jerusalem. He reported back to me: "They said that if I wanted, I could exercise full discretion, which I decided I would do. And so I won't be handcuffing you any more." I thanked him, and he shook my hand, and went off. And so they stopped handcuffing me.
Ivan Demjanjuk. Please write