Given how little is known about Ivan Marchenko, the infamous Nazi guard accused of killing thousands of Jewish people during World War II, it’s impossible to know how Ivan the Terrible died. While Marchenko, who earned the nickname due to his extremely cruel treatment of prisoners, is believed to have been born in March 1911, he dropped off the radar after the war, making how and when he died a mystery that’s unlikely to ever be solved. It’s this fact that complicates John Demjanjuk’s case in The Devil Next Door.
Demjanjuk, a retired Ukrainian-American auto worker, was accused in the early ’80s of being Ivan the Terrible. He was living in Ohio at the time, and was subsequently extradited to Israel to stand trial. Multiple Holocaust survivors testified during the trial that he was, in fact, Ivan the Terrible. However, there was some conflicting evidence. For example, Demjanjuk was born in 1920, roughly a decade after Ivan The Terrible. And though a key witness, Eliahu Rosenberg, identified Demjanjuk as Ivan, it was later revealed that he’d previously testified Ivan was killed in a prisoner uprising during the war.
Ultimately, Demjanjuk was convicted of Ivan the Terrible’s crimes in 1988 and sentenced to death. In 1993, the conviction was overturned due to reasonable doubt, and Demjanjuk returned to the U.S. However, he was again charged in 2009 and brought to Germany, where he was prosecuted for 28,060 counts of accessory to murder — this time not in relation to Ivan the Terrible, but for his alleged service at the Sobibor concentration camp. Demjanjuk maintained his innocence, but was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to five years in prison; he died in a German nursing home on March 17, 2012 while seeking an appeal.
As for Ivan Marchenko, according to the Associate Press, he was reportedly last seen coming out of a brothel in the Adriatic city of Fiume in March 1945, and is assumed to have fled to Yugoslavia. Demjanjuk’s son-in-law, Ed Nishnic, also claimed to have obtained a 1962 KGB report placing Marchenko around Fiume — now known as Rijeka — in Croatia. However, the validity of these reports have never been proven.
What is known is that Marchenko served as a guard at the Treblinka extermination camp during the war. He is described as being of Ukrainian descent, and was notorious for his intense cruelty toward prisoners, who he is said to have tortured with pipes, whips, and swords on their way to the gas chambers. He is believed to have perpetuated many of these crimes alongside fellow officer Nikolay Yegorovich Shalayev, who named Marchenko as a co-conspirator during a 1950 deposition, according to the Holocaust Historical Society.
Considering that Marchenko would now be 108 years old, it’s unlikely that he’s still alive, or that the truth surrounding what happened to him will ever be uncovered.
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