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The Hell of Victory

Even when it was possible for Jews to move to Britain or the US, Zionists did what they could to stop this diversion from their plan to populate the Jewish homeland. Shephard shows that in response to a joint British and Swiss offer to take in a number of orphaned Jewish children, much welcomed by the children themselves, the Zionist leadership refused. Only Palestine would do. Something similar happened in the US a year later, when Truman tried to persuade Congress to allow more DPs to settle there. Shephard reports that opposition came not just from nativist congressmen, but also from Zionists who worried that this would weaken the case for Palestine.

In the end, after a great deal of political pressure and congressional horse-trading, a Displaced Persons Act was signed into law in 1948, allowing 200,000 DPs to come to the US, but quotas were loaded against the Jews. Non-Jewish refugees from Communist regimes were favored, as well as agricultural workers. More were allowed in after an amendment in 1950. By 1952, 380,000 people had moved to the US, 79 percent of them Christians, 20 percent Jews. That at least some of these Christians had been pro-Nazi was considered to be less of a risk than the prospect of being “flooded” by Jews.

But history often comes back to haunt us in odd and unpredictable ways. One of the ex-DPs who entered the US in 1952 was a Ukrainian by the name of Ivan Demjanjuk, better known as John Demjanjuk, who proceded to live a quiet life as an auto worker in Cleveland, Ohio. Convinced that he was “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously brutal guard in the Treblinka death camp, the Israelis had him extradited in 1986 and put him on trial. When he turned out to be the wrong man, Demjanjuk was released in 1993. Since he was still suspected of having been a death camp guard, not in Treblinka but in Sobibor, he was extradited to Germany, where he was sentenced last May to five years in prison for being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews.

Very few people survived Sobibor, and most of them are now dead. One survivor who turned up for Demjanjuk’s trial in Germany as a plaintiff was Jules Schelvis, a printer in Amsterdam. His interest in the trial was to find out exactly what had happened in Sobibor to people such as his twenty-year-old wife, Rachel, who was gassed within half an hour of being dumped in the camp. He had already written a book about his own experience in Sobibor and Auschwitz. The trial was one last chance to reveal more of the truth, and see it acknowledged in public. Once Demjanjuk’s guilt had been established, Schelvis saw no reason why the ninety-year-old man should be punished any further. For Schelvis, perhaps, the war is finally over.

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