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Ivan the Terrible (born c. 1920) is the nickname given to a notorious guard Ivan Marchenko, at the Treblinka extermination camp during the Holocaust.[1] The moniker alluded to Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, the infamous Tsar of Russia. "Ivan the Terrible" gained international recognition from the 1986 John Demjanjuk case; however very little is known about Ivan Marchenko, and he is not mentioned in any early authoritative Holocaust literature. John Demjanjuk was accused first of being Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka concentration camp, but in 2011 he was accused of war crimes as a different guard named Ivan Demjanjuk who served at the Sobibor extermination camp.


Treblinka was operated by 20 to 25 SS Police overseers (Germans and Austrians) and 80 to 120 guards of various Soviet ethnicities, including Russian and Ukrainian Red army prisoners of war. They were assisted by a cadre of Jewish inmates known as Kapos, who were prisoner functionaries. The name Ivan was not an uncommon name in the camp. Ivan (also Iwan in Polish and German) is a common Ukrainian,[2] Russian and Belarusian given name. Volksdeutsche were known to have Slavic given names .[3] An example would be, Ivan Klatt, a Volksdeutscher who served in the Sobibor extermination camp, as a "Ukrainian guard" leader.[4] According to Rajchman six men called Ivan worked at Treblinka.[2] The vast majority of guards, who were trained at Trawniki concentration camp, were Volksdeutsche, and were valued because they spoke German, Ukrainian, Russian and other languages. They could also understand basic Yiddish. The German and Austrian SS command, local Poles, and Jewish inmates often referred to guards ambiguously as "Ukrainians" either because of their ethnicity, or because they originated from Ukraine.[5] Most of the squad commanders were Volksdeutsche.[6][7]


Ivan was identified as Ukrainian.[8] His function at the camp was to operate the two tank engines that fed the gas chambers,[8] although there were more guards referred to Ivan the Terrible at Treblinka.[2] He was also known for his extreme cruelty.[8] Holocaust survivor Chil Rajchman reported that Ivan was about 25 years old at the time he worked in the camp. He was known to cut off the ears of workers as they walked by, and these people were forced to continue working as they bled from their severed ear. Shortly after, he would shoot the person. He also tortured victims with pipes, swords and whips before they were killed in the gas chambers.[2][9]


Ivan's true identity was conclusively discovered only in 1990s. In 1970s-80s John Demjanjuk, a retired suburban Cleveland autoworker of Ukrainian descent, was accused of being Ivan.[1] He was tried in Israel in 1986 and sentenced to death, but the conviction was overturned due to lack of evidence.[10][11] One remarkable event, during the Israel trial, involved a star witness for the prosecution, Eliyahu Rosenberg. Asked by the prosecution if he recognized Demjanjuk, Rosenberg asked Demjanjuk to remove his glasses "so I can see his eyes." Rosenberg approached and peered closely at Demjanjuk's face. When Demjanjuk smiled and offered his hand, Rosenberg recoiled and shouted "Grozny!" meaning "Terrible" in Polish and Russian. "Ivan," Rosenberg said. "I say it unhesitatingly, without the slightest shadow of a doubt. It is Ivan from Treblinka, from the gas chambers, the man I am looking at now." "I saw his eyes, I saw those murderous eyes," Rosenberg told the court, glaring at Demjanjuk. Rosenberg then exclaimed directly to Demjanjuk: "How dare you put out your hand, murderer that you are!"[12] It was later revealed with great embarrassment for the prosecution, that Eliyahu Rosenberg had previously testified in a 1947 deposition that “Ivan the Terrible” had been killed during a prisoner uprising.[13]

On July 29, 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict on appeal. The ruling was based on new evidence, the written statements of 37 former guards at Treblinka (some of whom had been executed by the Soviet Union, others died of old age, and could therefore not be cross-examined) that identified Ivan the Terrible as another man named, Ivan Marchenko (possibly Marshenko, or Marczenko).[14][15] One document described Ivan the Terrible as having brown hair, hazel eyes, square-faced, and a large scar down to his neck; (Demjanjuk was blond with grayish-blue eyes, round-faced, and no such scar.)[16][17] According to one testimony, Marchenko was last seen in Yugoslavia in 1944. According to the testimony of Nikolai Yegorovich Shelayev, a Russian Treblinka gas chamber operator, he and Marchenko together with two Germans and two Jews, operated the motor which produced the exhaust gas which was fed into the chambers of the gas chambers.[18] Shelayev and Marchenko were transferred from Treblinka to Trieste in July 1943 where Marchenko guarded German warehouses and a local prison. In 1944, as Allied forces approached, Marchenko and a driver named Gregory "fled in an armored car to the partisans in Yugoslavia."[18] Shelayev last saw Marchenko in the spring of 1945, in Fiume, where he saw him coming out of a brothel. Marchenko told Shelayev that he had joined the Yugoslav partisans. As late as 1962, the Soviet authorities were looking for him.[19] The Soviet documents created enough reasonable doubt to disqualify Demjanjuk, and his previous conviction was overturned.[20] Some of the exculpatory evidence that led to Demjanjuk's release in 1993 had come to light years before and was deliberately withheld from the Israelis by the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of the US Department of Justice, which had urged Israel to charge him with being Ivan the Terrible.[21]

The Honorable Gilbert S. Merritt, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Chief Judge 1989-1996 had this to say about the OSI's handling of the Demjanjuk case: "Today we know that they — the OSI, the prosecution in the case and the State Department — lied through their teeth. Even then they knew without a doubt that Demjanjuk was not Ivan the Terrible, but they hid the information from us. I am sorry that I did not have the information at the time. If I did, we would never have ruled in favor of his extradition to Israel." Merritt claimed that what happened in his courtroom was: "nothing short of a witch hunt. In retrospect, it reminds me of the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts 300 years ago. The prosecution, counseled by the OSI, presented documents and witnesses whose testimony was based on emotions and hysteria, but not hard evidence. To my regret, we believed them. This instance is a prime example of how justice can be distorted."[22]

John Demjanjuk was later extradited to Germany on charges that he was another guard by the name of Ivan Demjanjuk, who served at the Sobibor extermination camp. During the trial, the problem of identity again became a key issue. Demjanjuk claimed he was not the Ivan Demjanjuk alleged to be a guard at Sobibor, and that the Trawnicki identification card supplied by the OSI to Germany, and on which the prosecution based its case, was a Soviet KGB forgery.[23] On 12 May 2011, Demjanjuk was convicted pending appeal by a German criminal court of being a guard at Sobibor extermination camp. Demjanjuk's appeal had not yet been heard by the German Appellate Court when he died in March 2012. As a consequence, the German Munich District Court declared him "presumed innocent." The court also confirmed that Demjanjuk's previous interim conviction was invalidated, and that Demjanuk was cleared of any criminal record.[24] Ivan Marchenko is not on the Most Wanted Nazis list. Marchenko, if he were to be caught, would be 93 years old as of 2013, and therefore unlikely to be brought to trial.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "In pictures: The story of John Demjanjuk". 12 May 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past by Joe Nickell, The University Press of Kentucky, 2005, ISBN 0813191378 (page 38)
  3. Hitler's Last Courier by Armin D. Lehmann, Xlibris, 2001, ISBN 0738831212
  4. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Aktion Reinhard Trawniki Staff Page.
  5. Mirchuk, Petro. My meetings and discussions in Israel. A MEETING WITH THE 'DVAZHDI GEROY' (TWICE-OVER HERO) OF ISRAEL.
  6. Gregory Procknow, Recruiting and Training Genocidal Soldiers, Francis & Bernard Publishing, 2011, ISBN 0986837407 (page 35)
  7. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps by Yitzhak Arad, Indiana University Press, 1987, ISBN 0253342937 (page 21)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Bill Ong Hing, Defining America: Through Immigration Policy, Temple University Press, 2003, ISBN 1592132332 (page 223)
  9. Alexander Kimel. "HOLOCAUST BYSTANDERS - THE UKRAINIANS". Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  10. "Profile: John Demjanjuk". 30 November 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  11. In memory of John Demjanjuk, Kyiv Post (21 March 2012)
  12. Broder, Jonathan. News article dated February 26, 1987 in Chicago Tribune. 2d Witness Calls Demjanjuk `Ivan The Terrible.` Downloaded on July 8, 2012 from:
  13. Pyle, Christopher H. (2001). Extradition, Politics, and Human Rights. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-823-1; Chapter 19. Ivan Who? Getting the Wrong Man
  14. Nickel, Joe (2010). Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past. University of Kentucky Press. Ch. 4
  15. News article in Los Angeles Times, dated December 31, 1990. WORLD: Lawyer Asks Demjanjuk Release.
  16. Williams, Daniel. News article in Los Angeles Times, dated December 21, 1991. KGB Evidence Reopens the Case of 'Ivan the Terrible' : Holocaust: Recently released files bolster the appeal of the man convicted as a Nazi death camp monster. Downloaded on Juky 4, 2012 from:
  17. Deseret News, news article dated March 9, 1992. `IVAN' FLED TO YUGOSLAVIA, DEMJANJUK DEFENSE SAYS; downloaded on July 5, 2012 from
  18. 18.0 18.1 Court Proceedings Extracts & Interrogations. Former Trawniki SS and Ukrainian Civilians serving in the Treblinka Death Camp. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team.
  19. Draaisma, Douwe (2012). Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past, Cambridge University Press. p.129
  20. Hedges, Chris. Article in New York Times dated July 30, 1993. Acquittal in Jerusalem; Israel Court Sets Demjanjuk Free, But He Is Now Without a Country. Downloaded on July 4, 2012.
  21. Raab, Scott. "John Demjanjuk: The Last Nazi." Article in Esquire Magazine dated August 11, 2010.
  22. Melman, Yossi. News article dated November 14, 1997. "Who Lied About Demjanjuk?," Ha'aretz Israeli News,
  23. The Local. "Demjanjuk's SS identity card was forged, his lawyer says." News article dated April 13, 2012.
  24. Convicted Nazi criminal Demjanjuk deemed innocent in Germany over technicality, at, retrieved 23 March 2012, viz. statement by Munich state court spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel.

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