THE DEVIL NEXT DOOR. (2019) A NETFLIX CRIME DOCUMENTARY SERIES DIRECTED BY YOSSI BLOCH AND DANIEL SIVAN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
There’s a scene in that excellent Nazi-hunting film, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978), in which Frieda Moloney, an imprisoned former concentration camp guard, screams at Laurence Olivier’s character: ‘It was thirty years ago! No-one cares any more!’ She’s talking, of course, about the Holocaust, and deriding the elderly Nazi-hunter for his continued efforts to track down Nazis and bring them to justice.
There are two schools of thought. One is that the past is the past, it’s dead and gone, let sleeping dogs lie and we should all move on from the horrific happenings of World War Two. The other is that it’s never too late to prosecute wrong-doers for their evil deeds, even if the perpetrator is currently a feeble old man who’s lived a blameless life for decades now.
John Demjanjuk is the subject of this brilliant documentary. In 1986, he was extradited from the United States to Israel to stand trial for being the notorious concentration camp guard Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. He had been positively identified by eyewitnesses, all Holocaust survivors.
Apparently, this particular guard stood at the door of the gas chambers in Treblinka with a sword, which he used to cut off the breasts of female prisoners as he herded them roughly to their deaths.
As if death wasn’t enough, they had to be tortured first too. All that this guard was required to do was shepherd the Jewish captives to their collective deaths. The torture was his own idea, something ‘extra’ he did purely out of his ‘enthusiasm’ for his ‘work.’
Although John Demjanjuk was initially found guilty of being this Ivan the Terrible fella, it was ultimately decided that this was a case of mistaken identity, However, and it’s a giant however, he was still a former concentration camp guard, only from Sobibor, another of the death camps.
John Demanjuk, now deceased, was born a Ukrainian in 1920. He served in the Second World War, but was taken prisoner by the Nazis, after which he started working as a guard in their death camp machinery.
That happened to a huge amount of captured Ukrainians in the war. I’ve read that, as concentration camp guards, they became even more brutal than the Nazis themselves, and more dreaded, feared and hated by the Jews they guarded.
Anyway, after the war, John Demjanjuk fled to the United States with his wife and daughter. They settled in Ohio and John worked at the Ford automobile factory, becoming a US citizen in 1958 and living a life of complete anonymity until the time of the trial in Israel.
The documentary deals openly with the shocking fact that, not only were former Nazis allowed into America to live in peace and quiet after the war, but some of them were actively encouraged, especially if they could lend the United States an expert hand with, say, their space programme. And to think that America fought the Nazis in World War Two! It’s difficult to fathom.
The trial of John Demjanjuk in Israel was a complex and emotive affair. Both the prosecutor, the quiet and unassuming Michael Shaked, and Demjanjuk’s defence lawyer, the flamboyant Yoram Sheftel, a Jew, were still alive in 2019 and each contributed to the documentary.
Sheftel, a powerful personality, reveals how he received hate mail and death threats and even had acid thrown in his face for being a Jew being paid big money to defend an alleged Nazi.
Demjanjuk, a big burly smiley fella who looked like he hadn’t a care in the world, maintained his innocence all the way through the trial. Although he may not have been Ivan the Terrible, he was still a former concentration camp guard with blood on his hands, and I don’t believe he ever apologised to any Holocaust survivors for this. I have to say I didn’t care for him much. He seemed arrogant, full of himself, and confidently relaxed about the prospect of getting off.
The Holocaust survivors who took the stand in the trial and talked about how they and their families had been treated in the camps were much more sympathetic. There’s an electrifying moment when John Demjanjuk has the cheek to offer his hand in friendship to Eliahu Rosenbaum, an eye-witness to the crimes of Ivan the Terrible, but Rosenbaum explodes in righteous anger.
I won’t reveal the ins-and-outs of the verdict and the appeal and related activities, in case you want to watch this excellent five-part documentary series for yourself and, if you have an interest in the Holocaust, you really should. It contains graphic images of concentration camp victims, as you might imagine.
I especially liked Eli Rosenbaum, formerly the Director of America’s OSI, or Office of Special Investigations- ie, Nazi Hunting- and the way he wasn’t deterred from pursuing a criminal just because the crime was decades old.
This man, who once questioned Hitler’s own pet film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl, has probably done more than anyone else in America to hunt down and prosecute former Nazis. God bless that man.
As for John Demjanjuk, deceased since 2012 at the age of ninety-one, I expect he’s where he’s meant to be right now. You may escape the hangman, but there’s no escaping the higher power who judges us all.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: