The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant posthumous citizenship to former Nazi guard John Demjanjuk this week, finding that the appeal became moot when Demjanjuk died in March.
It's an anti-climatic end to a denaturalization case that spanned decades.
John Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, was admitted to the United States in 1952 under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. He moved to Cleveland, and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1958. In 1981, a federal court in Ohio revoked Demjanjuk's certificate of naturalization and vacated the order admitting him to United States citizenship, finding that Demjanjuk's citizenship had been procured by willful misrepresentation of material facts.
Demjanjuk had apparently failed to disclose that he had been a guard at the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland. He was later accused of being the Ukrainian guard at Treblinka known as "Ivan the Terrible," an accusation which he denied.
The U.S. government extradited Demjanjuk to Israel in 1986 to stand charges on the Ivan accusations. Demjanjuk previously was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in Israel as the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp.
The Israeli Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction after Israel received evidence that another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard, The Associated Press reports. The Israeli court nonetheless believed that Demjanjuk had worked for the Nazis, probably at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor.
Demjanjuk's US citizenship was restored in 1998, but the Justice Department renewed its case based on more Nazi guard/falsifying information claims, reports The Guardian. A federal court ruled in December 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported to his native Ukraine or to Germany or Poland; Demjanjuk spent several years challenging that ruling.
Demjanjuk's widow, Vera Demjanjuk, continued pursuing her husband's denaturalization appeal as executrix of his estate, claiming that the issue was not moot because either the estate or Demjanjuk's survivors could be entitled to social security benefits and other entitlements if the denaturalization order was vacated.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding in an unpublished opinion, "The current appeal is meritless, because our Court has already decided that his denaturalization should not be revoked, and nothing in Demjanjuk's current appeal warrants relief. Over three decades, we have repeatedly rejected Demjanjuk's challenges to the authenticity of [evidence against him] and fraud on the court. Moreover, the appeal is moot due to Demjanjuk's death -- despite his family's arguments that the Social Security benefits issue keeps the case alive."
While posthumous denaturalization appeals are uncommon, this opinion provides a piece of tactical advice: When an appellant is deceased, benefits awards would be paid to his survivors. Here, the survivors were not parties to the appeal; the estate was the appellant. If survivors are to have any chance at surviving a mootness motion, they must be parties to the case.
- USA v. John Demjanjuk (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Court Grants Deportation Appeal After Bankruptcy Fraud (FindLaw's Third Circuit Blog)
- Fourth Circuit Affirms Judgment Against Nazi Leader Bill White (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit Blog)