Demjanjuk on trial

The AP reported a few days ago that at least 2 key witnesses for the prosecution in the trial of John Demjanjuk may themselves be guilty of war crimes. The men, Alex Nagorny and Samuel Kunz, are both German citizens.

According to documents filed in court by Demjanjuk’s attorney Ulrich Busch, both Nagorny and Kunz were ethnic Germans who were captured fighting for the Soviets and volunteered to serve the Nazis. Kunz is listed as having served in the Belzec death camp and elsewhere, while Nagorny is said to have been at Flossenbuerg. Kunz is accused by witnesses of personally killing prisoners, including shooting at least seven in 1943, according to the documents. Other witnesses say Nagorny was in groups of guards that shot hundreds of prisoners at Treblinka.

If this is true, not only does it muddle the prosecution’s case against Demjanjuk, but it points to the complicated legacy of the Holocaust. As I wrote in Dissent when Demjanjuk was first extradited to Germany to stand trial, there has been an understandable desire on the prosecution’s part to complete some form of historical reconciliation by singling out the readily-available Demjanjuk. But this obscures both the question of how many compliant people were able to return to their normal lives after the war and put the past behind them for good; as well as the genuine moral ambiguity of radical evil and its ability to make otherwise regular people compliant in a mass killing of extreme proportions.

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