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"But Nayman, who made no bones about his Jewish heritage, dismissed the idea of another Demjanjuk story, wondering aloud at one point how we dared question the integrity of the Israeli courts."

Paul Palango, investigative reporter

Eye News and Views

Toronto, December 16, 1993

Fitting the Media's Agenda

by Paul Palango


VER the past couple of years I've managed to involve myself in two legal cases involving barely literate men. After reviewing the evidence, I became convinced that each of them had been wrongly prosecuted by the state. ( ... )

[One] case involved Cleveland-area resident John Demjanjuk, who was sentenced to death by the Israeli government for being Nazi war criminal Ivan the Terrible. Demjanjuk's conviction was overturned, he was freed and he has regained his U.S. citizenship. ( ... )

That I became involved in the Demjanjuk Affair was entirely bizarre.

It began with a telephone call in 1990 from Victor Malarek, a former Globe and Mail co-worker, who had just gone to work as a co-anchor at the fifth-estate.

John DemjanjukThe Demjanjuk family had contacted Malarek, one of the highest-profile North American journalists of Ukrainian descent and no slouch when it comes to recognizing a good story, about investigating their patriarch's legal problems. But Malarek felt that his being Ukrainian would only serve to diminish the Demjanjuks' case should he arise as their defender. So he called me, a mongrel with lineage that includes Palanca, Borsellino, Macaluso, MacLellan, MacDonald and Kennedy--not a drop of Ukrainian blood among them.

On our own time, Malarek and I visited the Demjanjuk family in Seven Hills, Ohio. There we reviewed the key evidence gathered by the family supporting John Demjanjuk's contention that he was not Ivan the Terrible and had not been a guard in the Nazi death camp at Treblinka.

It was abundantly evident to Malarek and me that Demjanjuk had been the victim of a frame which resulted in, among other things, his being stripped of his citizenship by the U.S. government.

We could see that there were a number of agendas being played out. The Russians had started the ball rolling in the mid-70's by producing an identification card, which they claimed was genuine, asserting that Demjanjuk had been a Nazi guard. It was clear the card was fake. There was not another one like it in the fastidious German archives.

The Russians had a number of motives for promoting Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible, not least of which was to divide dissident Jews and Ukrainians who were becoming a thorn to the Soviet government. Serving up Demjanjuk would also win the Russians brownie points with the Israelis.

In the United States, the government agency responsible for prosecuting ex-Nazis had failed to win a conviction and was becoming desperate to justify itself. The head of the agency prosecuting Demjanjuk was under psychiatric care. The evidence Malarek and I saw in Seven Hills showed that the agency, and by extension the U.S. government, were willing to go to any lengths to make a case against Demjanjuk. They ignored and literally threw in the garbage key evidence that exculpated Demjanjuk.

In short, Demjanjuk was meant to be a human sacrifice for crass political purposes.

For Israel, although there were allegations that many Ukrainians were involved in the extermination of Jews, none had ever been convicted in Israel. It was obvious what the Israelis wanted from Demjanjuk.

It wasn't long after Malarek and I were called that Demjanjuk was sentenced to death by an Israeli court. We thought we were on to one of the greatest stories ever told, a race against time to save a man's life. The problem was we couldn't get anyone to listen to it. There was no apparent market.

We took the story to a Canadian book publisher, who expressed some interest, but eventually nixed the proposed project because no U.S. publisher would take it on. It seemed that a number of books had been published and were about to be published showing how Demjanjuk was indeed Ivan the Terrible and what great detective work had gone into his capture. The Canadian publisher didn't have the courage to go it alone.

Malarek and I then met with David Nayman, the then No. 2 at the fifth-estate, in an attempt to sell him on the story. The the fifth-estate had already done one story on Demjanjuk, which did not touch on the fact that he might have been the wrong man. There was also a Canadian angle to the story. Canadians of Ukrainian descent had contributed more money to Demjanjuk's defence fund than from any other country.

But Nayman, who made no bones about his Jewish heritage, dismissed the idea of another Demjanjuk story, wondering aloud at one point how we dared question the integrity of the Israeli courts. He also said: "If he wasn't Ivan the Terrible, he was probably somebody else." It was precisely the same unconscionable argument that the prosecution used later in Israel when its case began to unravel.

And, no, it seems Demjanjuk hadn't been a guard somewhere else, either.

Demjanjuk's conviction was overturned only when the weight of public opinion could no longer be ignored by the Israeli justice system. The evidence that turned opinion around was largely the same evidence Malarek and I had known about three years earlier.

A couple weeks ago, Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship was reinstated and he was allowed to rejoin his family. Of course, he was met by protesters who picketed his house, and has been threatened with death by Zionist extremists.

The point, I guess, is that sometimes the media really do tell only those stories that suit their narrow agendas.

What happened to John Demjanjuk should have put to shame the North American book publishing, magazine, newspaper and television news industries, but they'll just continue trundling along, pretending that they did the right thing under the circumstances.

Sad. Really sad.


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