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March 19, 2012

Was John Demjanjuk an accompice to Nazis or an innocent man railroaded by courts?

John Demjanjuk: Things We Are Left to Tend to Think, by Scott Raab - Esquire
What makes Demjanjuk's case particularly strange and ugly is the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice railroaded him. They convinced the Israelis to try Demjanjuk for being Ivan the Terrible even though they had evidence — which they withheld — that he was not. Those lawyers, like the lawyers and judges in Israel, relied upon the testimony of ancient Treblinka survivors and of evidence supplied, and possibly doctored, by the KGB. In the recent trial in Munich, no witness could place Demjanjuk at Sobibor; he was convicted mainly on the basis of an ID card that also had been a crucial piece of evidence at the earlier Jerusalem trial. But this was of no significance to his German prosecutors, who had concocted a new legal theory for Demjanjuk: If he was at Sobibor, then he was, by virtue of his presence there, guilty. Further, since he could not be accused of specific criminal acts, he was guilty of being an accessory to murder, not a murderer. And since he was not a German and never a Nazi, he was tried as one of a new class of criminal: non-Germans who could be tried as Germans because they worked for the Nazis. Done and done. In truth, before Germany ever brought him to trial, John Demjanjuk had already served more time in prison in Israel as a victim of mistaken identity than many actual Nazis had served for being convicted in German courts of committing atrocities witnessed and testified to by other actual Nazis. This mattered nothing to the prosecutors or to those who argued that the millions who died at the hands of the Nazis never had their day in court, a legal theory which boils down to 'two wrongs make a right if one of the wrongs is horrible enough.' Demjanjuk always maintained that he was innocent. I've studied his case for years, and I tend to think that he was indeed a guard at Sobibor. Tend to think, I say; I am not at all convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm also not a Jew whose vision of Shoah splits all humanity into two classes — monster or human. I never met John Demjanjuk or felt much of sympathy for him. I did get to know his son and a son-in-law, and consider them friends. They hope to have his body returned to Cleveland for burial, and they face considerable opposition — further proof, as if any were needed, that if we insist on treating each other as symbols, we forfeit our own claim to humanity.

Nick Toshes searches for an opium den

Nick Tosches on Opium Dens | Culture | Vanity Fair
I was born to smoke opium.Don’t get me wrong: I am against drugs, having long ago forsworn their use and embraced the spiritual path as set forth by The Celestine Prophecy and that guy with the big, shiny forehead. Drugs kill. Nonetheless, I was born to smoke opium. More precisely, I was born to smoke opium in an opium den. Why opium? Thomas De Quincey’s description of it as “the celestial drug” is not far from perfect: “Here,” said he, “was a panacea, a φάρμ˘ακον νηπενθές, for all human woes; here was the secret of happiness about which the philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered.” This celestial drug, this panacea, “communicates serenity and equipoise to all the faculties, active or passive,” and “introduces amongst them the most exquisite order, legislation, and harmony.” No one, “having once tasted the divine luxuries of opium, will afterwards descend to the gross and mortal enjoyments of alcohol.” Ponder these words; then pause to ponder too that De Quincey never experienced opium in its purest essence. As the title of his classic work, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, indicates, De Quincey never inhaled the vapors that are the transubstantiated soul of the drug in its most celestial form. De Quincey betrothed opium in London in the early years of the 19th century, before the pipe came west. He took his opium by means of the tincture known as laudanum, a dilution of the drug in alcohol, 25 drops of laudanum containing perhaps a single minuscule grain of opium. Thus the effects of the drug, no matter how celestial, were degraded and deadened by the overwhelming quantity of the “gross and mortal” alcohol which constituted the basis of laudanum. The mixture of opium with wine is alluded to in the Odyssey, and as Homer praises it mightily and knowingly, we can assume that the first and greatest among poets was no stranger to the celestial drug.