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  • Writer's pictureAllan Dyen-Shapiro

John and Don: Lessons for the Future

The public phase of the Congressional hearings on the January 6th insurrection began yesterday. I saw a few clips and had to look away, for they transported me back to 1987. In that year, John Demjanjuk, a retired auto worker from Cleveland, was tried in Jerusalem for the crime of being Ivan the Terrible, a murderous guard at Nazi Germany’s Sobibor Death Camp. It was predicted to be the last major war crimes trial from that era, and those willing to wait in line could watch a session. I had a ticket for one day of the proceedings. I stood in line, was allowed in, sat on the hard wooden bench, and watched survivors give testimony.

Way more people watched the trial on TV—it was the first Nazi war crimes trial to be televised. The purpose was to educate the youngest generation of Israelis on the horrors of Nazism such that it would not ever be forgotten. Trial by spectacle worked—the country was riveted.

That’s what America began to see yesterday. No, not the Nazism, although I’m sure the guy with the Camp Auschwitz T-shirt will be mentioned. And no, it’s not even a trial, although many court cases will use the evidence unearthed. The similarity is that this is also public education, also intended to shock the public into never wanting to go through such crimes again.

Will it work? Well, with FOX News and other right-wing outlets not covering it, many old, white men won’t see it. And many young people don’t even bother to keep up with the news.

There still may be a point. Bear with me, and I’ll draw a few more potential parallels from the Demjanjuk trial.

On April 18, 1988, Demjanjuk was found guilty by the Jerusalem District Court and sentenced to trial by hanging. However, new evidence emerged substantiating Demjanjuk’s claims that he served in a different unit than Ivan the Terrible, albeit one assigned at one point to Sobibor. As he had been tried for being Ivan the Terrible, not for being just a run-of-the-mill death camp employee, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld his appeal and allowed him to return to the United States.

Lesson #1: With really good lawyers, even a Nazi will walk.

Donald, as this has gone on longer than Tweet-length, I can safely assume you aren’t reading this post. Hopefully, whatever teenage girl that you managed to find without Jeff Epstein’s help, the one now reading this to you, will continue “storytime” while you take your blue-pill medication (and I’m not referencing The Matrix here—the blue pill doctors prescribe old men like you).

Once Demjanjuk returned to the US, he was arrested for lying on his immigration documents, found guilty, and deported to Germany. The Germans had historically, much like the Israelis, staged trials so their youngest wouldn’t forget what was done in their country’s name, but few convictions had ever been obtained in trials of concentration camp guards.

The German prosecutors tried a novel strategy: the crime was accessory to murder—27,900 counts of this crime, one for each person put to death at Sobibor. Demjanjuk lost his case and was sentenced to five years in prison, with credit for two years already served during the trial. He died the following year (2012).

Lesson #2: Even with expensive lawyers, old men can be put away effectively for life on lesser charges. Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion until his death is another example of this principle.

So, other than public education, what of consequence ultimately resulted from the Demjanjuk trials? And assuming, based on lesson #1, Donald Trump will likely not serve jail time (and may not even be tried) for his crimes of treason, and he may be dead before he’s tried for lesser crimes, what consequence will these hearings be?

More history: following the last Demjanjuk verdict, Germany began prosecuting more guards as accessories to murder. There were numerous high-profile convictions.

Lesson #3: Precedents matter.

It’s 2070, and lawyers at the Crimes Against Humanity proceedings of The International Criminal Court go over the evidence that the US failed to act on time with climate change mitigation. As a result, the last living member of the Trump administration will be prosecuted as an accessory to murder. One hundred million counts, one for each extra death caused by climate change. Former Senior Advisor for Policy to Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, a doddering 85-year-old man, listens to his sentence.

His enthusiastic supporters have donated his wardrobe for the day. He’s dashing in an Armani blazer and slacks, sourced from a factory without a single Chinese-made machine. One hundred percent of the labor to fashion his wardrobe was performed by small children in prison camps set up in Mexico for American “illegals” attempting to flee oppression. At the key moment, he unbuttons his jacket to reveal the vintage T-shirt underneath.

Camp Auschwitz, it says.

Within the next hour, one billion small children check Wikipedia. The leaders who grow up to empower the working classes, end war, and repair ecological devastation are inspired that, yes, tyranny can be fought.

The arrival via time travel of several million T-800 Terminators with the face of Ivanka Trump is derided as fake news and widely ignored because Genesis News Network fails to cover it.

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