Monday, November 30, 2009

Nazi trial

Accused Sobibor concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk is on trial in Germany for his alleged involvement in the Holocaust.

Apparently, the state of Israel already acquitted this guy because of a case of mistaken identity, and if Eichmann is any indication of the forgiving nature of the Jewish state, I'd say this guy is probably going to walk.

Actually, I should say roll. He's 89 years old and confined to a wheel chair. Time has done more to this guy that Germany every will. Still, in a lot of ways, he reminds me of Eichmann, particularly Hannah Arendt's famous description in the subtitle of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Demjanjuk, by all accounts, is a very unassuming man. He lived in exile in the United States and is a retired autoworker, reminiscent of Eichmann's Argentinian exile and failed life as a chicken farmer. If Demjanjuk is anything like Eichmann, or at least the picture of Eichmann we get from Arendt's account, he's probably just a semi-skilled man caught up in the evils of a confusing time of national identity.

I'm not saying this excuses Demjanjuk, nor does it excuse Eichmann, but it's important to remember that you're trying a man, not the Holocaust itself. Neither of these individuals seem capable of atrocities of that scale; theirs are crimes of a lower, and perhaps less brutal kind.

At this point, however, I don't see much good sending an 89 year old man to prison. Convict him, sure, but don't send him to -- what for him at least -- constitutes a state-funded retirement home. If you want to punish him, send him back to the United States and let him deal with finding quality care at an affordable price. He'll die of exhaustion before the search is over.