John Demjanjuk's "Ivan the Terrible" Nickname Was Very Fitting

Anna Quintana - Author

Oct. 24 2019, Updated 4:11 p.m. ET

ivan the terrible nazi guard
Source: Getty Images

In the Netflix documentary, The Devil Next Door, viewers will learn the story of John Demjanjuk, a former soldier in the Soviet Red Army who was captured during World War II and became one of the most notorious Nazi guards in history.  

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Dubbed Ivan the Terrible, Demjanjuk (pronounced: dem-YÄN-yük) eventually made his way from West Germany to America following the war, where he lived for three decades undetected until he was deported to Israel to stand trial for war crimes, including murder and "acts of extraordinarily savage violence." 

Why was John Demjanjuk nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible?" 

Well, it turns out Demjanjuk's real name is Ivan Mykolaiovych Demianiuk, but after he was granted U.S. citizenship in 1958, he changed his name from Ivan to John. 

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john demjanjuk netflix
Source: Netflix

However, his similarities to the real-life Ivan the Terrible, the Grand Prince of Russia from 1553 to 1547, go beyond their shared moniker. Ivan the Terrible was rumored to have killed his eldest son, a truly unthinkable act, and Demjanjuk also took part in heinous murders during his time as a Nazi guard at the Sobibor concentration camp. 

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According to reports, Demjanjuk took part in the killing of 28,060 people during the Holocaust. 

"Your hands are covered in blood," one Holocaust survivor shouted in the court room. Demjanjuk maintained his innocence throughout the process and claimed it was a case of mistaken identity. 

demjanjuk court
Source: Getty Images

Demjanjuk in Israeli court in 1988.

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What happened to John Demjanjuk? Was he guilty? 

As we mentioned above, Demjanjuk was deported to Israel in 1986 to stand trial and he was initially found guilty and sentenced to death. However, in 1993, the ruling was overturned based on insufficient evidence and Demjanjuk returned to Ohio. His U.S. citizenship was restored in 1998. 

But just a few years later, Demjanjuk was charged again after new evidence surfaced that proved he went by the name Ivan Demjanjuk during his time in multiple concentration camps in Poland and Germany. 

His U.S. citizenship was revoked again in 2002, and Demjanjuk became a stateless person. His deportation was ordered in 2005 and four years later he was sent to Germany where he was to stand trial again — this time as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews at Sobibor. 

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john demjanjuk guilty
Source: Getty Images

Demjanjuk in 2011.

Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison. He appealed the verdict, and but he died before his appeal could be heard. He passed away on March 17, 2012 at the German nursing home where he had been living. He was 91 years old. 

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Where is John Demjanjuk's son today?

Following his death, Demjanjuk's son John Demjanjuk Jr. claimed his father died a "victim and survivor of Soviet and German brutality since childhood.”

john demjanjuk son
Source: Netflix

"He loved life, his family and humanity," he said at the time. "History will show Germany used him as a scapegoat to blame helpless Ukrainian POWs for the deeds of Nazi Germans." 

John Jr. has yet to publicly comment on the Netflix docuseries. 

Stream The Devil Next Door on Netflix now. 

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