The Devil Next Door documents the war crimes trial against John Demjanjuk, a man accused of being “Ivan the Terrible” during the Holocaust.
The Devil Next Door tells the unprecedented story of John Demjanjuk, a retired Ukrainian-American autoworker. He’s hailed as an immigrant that embraced American values. In 1986, John was deported to Israel for war crimes after being identified by eleven Holocaust survivors as “Ivan the Terrible”, a guard at the Treblinka concentration camp.
“Ivan the Terrible” was known for inflicting terrible violence against camp prisoners, from crushing skulls to stabbing pregnant women and slicing off their breasts in their final moments before being sent into the gas chambers. The Devil Next Door surfaces an unprecedented, understandably emotional war crimes trial against a man that engineered an absurd volume of deaths.
But The Devil Next Door is not only about a trial against John Demjanjuk, but there’s also a debate in whether prosecutors extradited the right man. The difficulty the docuseries poses is that he was seen as a fine American immigrant that was loved by the community and church, and engrained himself into the culture. Archive footage shows how he did not come across as violent or threatening — he looked like a normal man, claiming his innocence. Conspirators claimed a false ID, but prosecutors were adamant John was “Ivan the Terrible”
The Devil Next Door poses the complexities of bringing a trial like this to the world. Public opinion is based on evidence they have gathered from the media. There is an emotional factor and the need for justice that comes with a trial like this. “Ivan the Terrible” should be made accountable, and the complicated factors brought to the trial comes from the fact that the Nazis deleted most of their evidence before the world arrived and saw the atrocities.
The Netflix docuseries is not meant to be for the shock factor — it’s an insight into the nature of the trial and the opinions of many people who were part of it at the time. It’s fascinating, tragic and educational at the same time. We remember the atrocities, but we forget about the judicial processes that followed against the war criminals.
The Devil Next Door adds to Netflix’s consistent run of genuinely thought-provoking documentaries. This is a must-watch.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.