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Demjanjuk Upbeat, Family Says; Israel Orders Suicide Watch

April 26, 1988

JERUSALEM (AP) _ An upbeat John Demjanjuk met with his family for two hours Tuesday and was optimistic that his conviction and death sentence on Nazi war crimes would be overturned, relatives said.

But an official at the prison where he is being held said guards were ordered to put the retired Ohio autoworker under suicide surveillance.

Demjanjuk, 68, was returned to solitary confinement in the maximum-security Ayalon Prison on Monday after being sentenced to death for executing hundreds of thousands of Jews as the brutal Nazi guard ″Ivan the Terrible.″

Demjanjuk, who insisted he was innocent throughout the 14-month trial, plans to appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

Israel prison service spokesman Johnny Tester said Demjanjuk was placed ″under 24-hour guard, and we are asking his guards to be more careful, more alert. We want to be prepared in case of a suicide attempt.″

Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said the precautions were ″a bunch of baloney.″

″They’re going to pop up with that kind of stupid propaganda to try to make it seem like he might kill himself out of remorse or guilt,″ John Demjanjuk Jr., 22, told The Associated Press.

″My father would never attempt something like that because he’s innocent and he’ll fight this to the last minute,″ the younger Demjanjuk said.

Demjanjuk’s daughter Lydia Maday, 38, said her father was cheerful Tuesday during the family’s first meeting since he was sentenced to die.

″We definitely get our strength from him. You keep thinking when you go in there you’re going to have to pump him up and it’s just the opposite,″ Mrs. Maday said. ″He’s prepared to move on and get ready for the appeal.″

She said Demjanjuk, who was extradited to Israel from his suburban Cleveland home, told the family he bore no animosity toward the Israeli judges or the 650 spectators who clapped and chanted ″Death 3/8 Death 3/8″ when the sentence was announced.

″He’s not vindictive. There’s no hate,″ Mrs. Maday said. ″He just said it’s a shame that people have to rejoice in someone else’s sorrow. You just have to overlook it. A lot of people didn’t feel that way.″

Mrs. Maday said Demjanjuk, a devout Ukrainian Orthodox Christian, cited passages from the Bible and said ″Christ was spat upon and villified and yet he turned the other cheek. My dad says he’s another innocent victim and he can take it too.″

John Demjanjuk Jr. said the defense would not file an appeal for several weeks, until after the family returns home to map a strategy.

Demjanjuk was convicted April 18 of being the sadistic guard who helped operate the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where 850,000 Jews were killed.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who lost relatives in the Holocaust, praised the sentence.

″All of us are proud that a Jewish tribunal in the Jewish state has judged and condemned one of the cruelest war criminals who murdered many of our Jewish brethren and relatives,″ the Polish-born Shamir said.

Some Israelis saw the 14-month trial as a crucial opportunity to educate the younger generation and remind the world of the horrors of the Holocaust.

″The personal fate of John Demjanjuk isn’t important or very interesting,″ Yosef Lapid, an Israeli commentator and Holocaust survivor, said on Israel radio. ″The importance of the trial was to remind us of the Holocaust. For most of humanity the Holocaust is cloudy history.″

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