The Devil Next Door tells the story of the international war crimes trials of John Demjanjuk. This is a confronting and painful experience as far as detailed documentaries go. But the subject should never be forgotten and we should all hear the stories of those who suffered or died in the death camps. Netflix provides an uncompromising presentation that spans five episodes, with some brutal imagery and actual footage of the testimonies from survivors of the holocaust.
At the end of the Second World War, a number of Germans set up a new life in America. Some becoming high profile figures, such as Wernher von Braun who went onto receive the American National Medal of Science due to his contribution to the space program. But, many of these people settled into quiet lives. Working hard and generally keeping a low profile.
In 1952 a Ukranian arrived in New York from West Germany, with his wife and his daughter. His name was John Demjanjuk, he had fought for the Soviet Red Army in the Second World War. But after being taken prisoner by the Germans he became a guard for the Germans at one of their death camps. He had originally attempted to be transferred to Argentina, listing himself as a driver in Sobibor in his application. However, Demjanjuk and his family settled in the quiet suburb of Seven Hills, Cleveland, Ohio. He worked hard at the local Ford factory, went to church, became a citizen and built a good life for his family. Until he cropped up in a list of names that said he had collaborated with the Nazis.
This is where it gets very interesting. A Trawniki ID card of Demjanjuk's surfaced, which was said to be authentic. It gets better. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service sent images to the survivors of the holocaust in Israel. Here, nine survivors identified John Demjanjuk as a guard at the Treblinka death camp known as “Ivan the Terrible”. Survivors had described this guard as a torturer who had committed unimaginable crimes against humanity. The result of this, lead to Demjanjuk losing his Citizenship and being extradited to Israel to face trial. But did this quiet family man do this, or after all these years is it a case of mistaken identity?
One thing that stands out, is the incredible length of time that this story covers. The names of Nazi Collaborators was first presented in 1974. On top of that, it was 1986 by the time the trial opened against Demjanjuk in Israel. Overall, the documentary covers numerous trials and appeals that finish in 2011, spanning over forty years.
Even though the subject matter of this story is horrific, Netflix does a great job of providing evidence in a balanced way. It's fair to say, that if Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible he deserved to receive the biggest punishment that can be served. But, as the evidence unfolds we hear the side of the Demjanjuk family along with falsified documents and Soviet documentation identifying Ivan the Terrible as Ivan Marchenko. Serious doubts are cast, yet it is clear that Demjanjuk did once have a tattoo marking his blood type. Pretty condemning, considering these tattoos were commonly given to SS guards.
All in all, The Devil Next Door raises more questions than answers. However, the courtroom scenes are incredibly powerful and deeply emotional. These people witnessed the horrors of the death camps and the sadistic acts performed by the man “Ivan the Terrible”. It is brutal and sometimes difficult viewing but presents an essential story that should never be ignored.