The play is based on the real-life trial of John Demjanjuk, a US citizen of Ukrainian origin. In 1942, then a Soviet soldier named Ivan Demjanjuk, he was captured by the Germans, and after the end of the war he immigrated to America as a “victim of the fascist regime.” In the late 1970s, Demjanjuk was charged with collaborating with the Nazis. Allegedly, he was none other than “Ivan the Terrible”, one of the most brutal guards of the Treblinka concentration camp, and in 1988 the Israeli Supreme Court sentenced him to death. However, documents found in the KGB archives refuted this claim. Nevertheless, the Israeli investigation revealed that after being taken prisoner, the convict did in fact undergo a Nazi-supervised training in Trawniki and was subsequently involved in the management of the death camps of Sobibór and Majdanek as well as of the labour camp in Flossenbürg. In 2011, by decision of the Munich state court, the 89-year-old Ivan Demjanjuk was found guilty of aiding in the murder of 28,060 prisoners in the Nazi death camp in Sobibór, and was sentenced to five years in prison. However, due to his advanced age he was released before the appeal was submitted. He did not live to experience due incarceration, as he died in a nursing home at the age of 91. The Demjanjuk trial was one of the most notorious in a series of similar trials, and it went down in history as the last one involving crimes committed during the Second World War.

The production does not address the question of Demjanjuk’s guilt. Instead, it exposes the theatrical nature of the nearly 40-year trial itself. The performance is carried out in the spirit of the Brechtian “epic theatre”, and as such it a sarcastic show on the verge of absurdity, a “tragic circus”, as foreign critics have precisely defined the genre. 

“He became a symbol – a symbol of trying to find those responsible for the nightmares of World War II. (…) There is a feeling that the trial is no longer about him, but about Germany’s desire to legally reconcile with its past.”

Jonathan Garfinkel, playwright

The play was successfully staged in the USA and in Germany; its Russian premiere took place on 25 April 2017 on the stage of the Errata Museum of Contemporary Art.

In 2018, the performance won Best Director and Best Actor at the Proryv (Breakthrough) Theatre Awards in St. Petersburg.

The performance was included in the programme of the 20th NET – New European Theatre Festival.


Ilya Moshchitsky

Graduated from the Music Theatre Directing Department of the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy (2006). Participant of the “Transcription” laboratory under Kirill Serebrennikov (2012), creator and artistic director of the independent Misantrophe Theatre in Kiev. 

He creates cross-over genre-transgressive performances in academic state theatres, on independent, experimental stages, and even in circuses. His most important performances include: The Life Before Us, based on the novel by É. Ajar (Arkhangels Youth Theatre), King Ubu: A Performance About power, play by slaves, Invitation to a Beheading, and Three Sisters (presented in the framework of the “Gogolfest” Festival), A Summer Day, based on the play by S. Mrożek (New Stage TYZ, St. Petersburg). Other projects include: The Trials of John Demianiuk: Holocaust-Cabaret, circus musical How Grinch stole Christmas; freak opera Demon of the Dreams; Christmas story, Peer Gynt, Romeo & Juliet; musicals: Gagarin, Interview with the Vampire, Hit Parade of Crime (St. Petersburg Music Hall).

Recipient of the “Proryw / Breakthrough” Award in the Best Director Category (2018) for The Trials of John Demianiuk: Holocaust-Cabaret.

His performances have been presented at many international festivals. In 2018, The Whole of Shakespeare was staged to critical acclaim at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.