‘The Devil Next Door’ & The Horrifying History

When I watched Tom Six’s The Human Centipede movies for the first time, there wasn’t anything as wickedly nasty as it. It’s about a crooked doctor who stitches the mouth of a person to the anus of the another serially, so three people could function on one digestive system. It can’t get any worse than this, I thought, unaware of the cruder reality that inspired the movie. The Human Centipede was inspired by the human experimentations conducted by the Nazis on the war prisoners. Just reading through the wiki, in 2014, was a disconcerting experience. I wish I had not read about it, but I’m glad I did. It helped me to notice how cruel the world was/is. The Nazi Human Experimentation meant that humans were treated like livestock, they were just living bodies, nothing more than that. They were subjected to extreme torture and pain in the name of the illegal medical experimentations. And Joseph Mengele, the doctor in charge of these medical trails was the inspiration for The Human Centipede. I mean, an abhorrent movie like The Human Centipede macadamized the way for me to discern more about our history, which I have clearly spurned post 10th grade. And even my academics didn’t dwell into this horrifying territory. All that comes to my mind is, how the UN came into existence, as I seek to recall.

Now, if Joseph Mengele, the doctor who subjected prisoners to extreme pain, abuse and agony with his crude acts, can be termed a cruel, sadistic, tyranical and barbarous person; there was another person whose cruelty, malice and savagery cannot be accurately expressed even by summoning all the adjectives. Such has been the person’s nature. And he is Ivan The Terrible, the vicious guard of one such Nazi camp, who executed a million jews at least, between 1942 to 1945. While some claim the number goes as high as 3 million. We are talking about the number of murders a man has committed, not views on youtube, and it is in millions.Do you get it? In Poland was Treblinka and Sobibor, which were Nazi Extermination Camps used to kills thousands of people with Gas Chambers, every day. Day after day, people would be brought in trains, forced to the camps, had their clothes stripped off, hair removed and pushed into gas chambers which would kill them. Just imagine standing in line with your whole family, naked just waiting for your turn to enter the gas chamber and die. How horrifying would that be? And Ivan The Terrible was the one would force these people, torture them, cut pieces of their bodies, and enjoy the sadism. Ivan The Terrible is for sure, one of the cruellest life forms the planet has ever seen.

Okay. Did I say that John Demjanjuk, a Ukranian who moved to the USA in 1945 was convicted of being Ivan The Terrible, in 1986? Well, yes. And the Documentary series, The Devil Next Door, follows this court trial. Demjanjuk claims he is innocent and that he is a victim of mistaken identity. 

John Demjanjuk

The series is a very humanistic portrayal of an extremely inhumanistic person. The open-endedness of the case and the faithfulness of the series is a head-scratcher. There was a section of people who believed Demjanjuk is indeed, Ivan The Terrible. Conflicting them was another chunk that argues it is a case of mistaken identity. The series takes no sides though, it is very nonaligned and impartial, and is sure to send you into a dilemma. When the survivors of the camps share their accounts, it is clear that he is the devil, and you want Demjanjuk to be the devil. The series masterfully uses footage from the court trial, which was dubbed as ‘show trial’, as it stands to be the only trail which was telecasted live in Israel, where Demjanjuk is deported to as a war criminal.

Every time you want your conviction to be right, you are presented with a fact that contradicts your opinion, and even alters it. Right after you begin believing a particular point and take a side, another fact is thrown which cleverly dismisses your the fact on which your belief was built on. It feels like you are in a cat and mouse game with the series which is always a step ahead of you. For example, I was convinced that this man is Ivan The Terrible for sure, because of the way he reacts to the allegations he is faced with. There is no other way a sane person can handle the hate of the entire world and yet, not even reflect it on your face. This point made me staunchly accept he is the devil. But, this aspect too addressed as Demjanjuk’s supervisor at work says that all the immigrants who worked under him were extremely quite and never made their presence felt. I had to rethink my judgement as it made me dubious. Directors Yossi Bloch and Daniel Sivan give everyone equal space to make their points, and everyone has their own reasons to believe what they believe. 

Right after finishing the series, I watched Nazi Concentration Camps, which is stock footage shot by the US army after the liberation. And I can clearly see from which side it was shot. The Devil Next Door passes no judgement, though.

What shocked me the most is the fact that it all happened only 70 years ago, not from the age of Brontosaurus. There is actual footage which shows piles of dead bodies in a horrible state. The most haunting of the stock footage, though, is the shot where we see tons of footwear. It is a very powerful and disturbing image. Just a gigantic pile of footwear. Maybe a day ago, they were being worn by someone. Now, those legs have just disappeared.

Despite all the claims and documents, was John Demjanjuk really Ivan The Terrible? It depends on your conviction. But I feel the question that needs to be asked is- Was Ivan The Terrible the sole reason for those deaths?

The series is streaming on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80201488

For further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Demjanjuk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_the_Terrible_(Treblinka_guard)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extermination_camp

Watch the trailer of The Devil Next Door

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