By Toby Klein Greenwald
To void the decision of 13 members of Israel’s cabinet to release 104 cold-blooded murderers, petitions must be brought before the Supreme Court of Israel. In the Cleveland Jewish News of August 27, 1993, I reported that, on August 20, distinguished Israeli attorneys in their long black robes, international civil-rights advocate and law professor Irwin Cotler (today a Canadian MP and former justice minister), and two ordinary men dressed in sandals, short-sleeved striped shirts and knitted kippot, stood shoulder to shoulder around the horseshoe table before the court in Jerusalem, representing more than 20 organizations and individuals to petition against the release of Ivan (John) Demjanjuk.
On July 29 of that year, the court had found reasonable doubt that he was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, overturning the earlier conviction. Petitions that he be tried for crimes at Sobibor, Trawniki, and elsewhere had been denied on August 18. Cotler, one of the petitioners appearing on the part of InterAmicus, an international human-rights organization, noted that the Supreme Court had stated Demjanjuk was a war criminal, and “international law says you must bring that person to trial, or you are weakening the whole corpus of international human-rights law.”
At the session on August 20, each organization on behalf of whom they petitioned represented hundreds more. In the audience were also youngsters, who had given up the last days of their summer vacation to be present. I described them as “the children of the third generation who had come to watch the second generation demanding justice for the first generation.” And they had high hopes that in that imposing, high-ceilinged, light-filled marble courtroom, the due process of Israeli law would not fail them.
But their petitions were denied, and Demjanjuk went free to fly back to Cleveland, my hometown. On May 12, 2011, Demjanjuk was ultimately convicted in Germany as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 at Sobibor. However, he died before the appeal, which, according to German law, meant he died technically innocent.
At the time that Demjanjuk’s original conviction in an Israeli court had been overturned by the Supreme Court on July 29, I spoke with Josef Czarny, a survivor and a witness for the prosecution, and he was badly shaken. “The community in Cleveland has been following this from the beginning. Please say something to them,” I asked. He looked in the direction of Demjanjuk and said, emotionally, “History will judge him! History will judge him!” (July 30, 1993, CJN)
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, author and spiritual head of the Ohr Torah Institutes in Israel, said, “If Demjanjuk is not tried for Sobibor, and leaves Israel a free man, for me it will be a fast day (day of mourning).” (Aug 6, 1993, CJN)
Aharon Appelfeld, a noted Israeli novelist, told the newspaper Yediot, on the court’s decision, “Sometimes it is preferable that a murderer will walk among us, the mark of Cain on his forehead, and that we will know he is walking. There can be one whom we can point to and say, ‘Yes, there was a Holocaust and you were the hangman.’”
But Mishael Cheshin, one of the three justices who, on August 18, denied the first petitions to retry Demjanjuk on the basis of Sobibor, concluded his contribution to the court’s decision with these words: “To the injured and to those who left behind them, there, parts of their bodies and souls, this will be no comfort. But let us all know this. The sun [here] that will warm our bodies and our hearts will not warm his body or heart. The tears that have poured forth in our salty land will not mix with his tears. We will expel him from among us, he will go wherever he may go, and we will remain in our place. And our dwelling place will be holy.”
What is different and what is the same about this current prisoner release? The U.S., Israel, and Germany took the case of Demjanjuk seriously. They took the blood of his victims seriously. Millions of dollars were spent, collectively, by those three countries in order to bring one Nazi war criminal to justice. The 104 terrorists whom 13 Israeli ministers voted to set free, in blatant opposition to 85% of the Israeli population (according to a Smith Research poll reported in the Jerusalem Post), are responsible for the brutal and cruel deaths of more than a hundred babies, children, women, and men. If they go free, they will return to the Palestinian Authority to a hero’s welcome.
But unlike Demjanjuk, these vile creatures do share the same sun, the same salty land, and they do pollute our holy place. It is not enough to wait for history to judge. It is not enough to declare a fast day of mourning. And no, we do not want them walking among us. What can be done?
1. Rise up and bring petitions before the Supreme Court, as was done following the decision to free Demjanjuk, to prevent the obscenity of releasing these cold-blooded murderers. The petitioners should represent international organizations as well as individuals. To release them is a crime against morality and humanity.
2. According to Israel Resource Review, “There is a ‘security risk’ form that the Israel Prison Service must submit concerning each convict, known as ‘HaArachat Misukanut,’ which is binding upon the decision as to whether or not a convict can be released. . . . If the convict does not pass the test of the ‘HaArachat Misukanut’, Israeli law will not allow the convict out of jail.” This avenue must be explored and promoted among ministers and the public. Would anyone suggest freeing 104 Dzhokhar Tsarnaevs?
3. Demonstrations should be held not only in Israel, but worldwide.
4. Write protest letters and blog entries.
5. Call your MKs, senators, and congressmen.
Ministers Limor Livnat and Silvan Shalom abstained, but their slates are not clean. The Gemara (Sotah 11) tells us that three men were part of the consultation when Pharaoh said, “Let us deal wisely with it (the Israelite nation) lest they multiply” (Exodus 1:10). Bilaam advised him (and Pharaoh ultimately ordered the male babies thrown into the Nile), as a result of which he was eventually killed (by the Israelites). Jethro ran away and his children sat in the Sanhedrin. Job kept silent and he was subjected to terrible suffering.
Hanging on my wall is a poster I purchased in the Washington DC Holocaust Memorial Museum. It says, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality” (Dante).
Do not remain silent. Next time, they may come for you. v
The author is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times, the award-winning director of the Raise Your Spirits educational theater, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.