‘The Devil Next Door’: Fascinating Details Netflix Left Out

When movies or TV shows get taken to task for historical inaccuracy, a common response is “It’s not a documentary.” That means that the filmmakers take dramatic license with their recreation of history. But what if a show faces such a situation, and it is a documentary?

That’s what Netflix found out with The Devil Next Door, its documentary about an alleged Nazi War criminal who may or may not have been a particularly sadistic concentration camp guard.

Netflix is answering charges of inaccuracy and reportedly left out other details besides.

Was John Demjanjuk a Nazi or not?

Netflix logo on a phone
Netflix | Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An auto worker living in Cleveland wouldn’t seem to be a likely candidate to be a Nazi. According to Time, however, he had been born in Ukraine and was drafted into the Soviet Army during World War II. His life took a major turn after the Nazis captured him in 1942. 

Demjanjuk maintained throughout his life that he was only a prisoner of war at a labor camp and was forced to work as a guard. However, conflicting evidence indicated he had served at concentration camps where he was known as “Ivan the Terrible” for his barbaric methods as one of the gas chamber operators. 

Demjanjuk was put on trial and extradited for a highly publicized trial in Israel, where he was positively identified, found guilty and sentenced to death. Evidence later emerged that “Ivan the Terrible” was a different man, and Demjanjuk’s conviction was overturned.

However, in 2009 he was deported to Germany and put on trial again and found guilty for being an accessory. He died while appealing his conviction, and many questions remain unanswered. 

What did Netflix supposedly get wrong? 

While The Devil Next Door was positively reviewed as a standout among Netflix’s many true crime shows, this week, the streamer agreed to make changes after claims of inaccuracy were leveled. 

As reported in Variety, Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki complained that maps in the series incorrectly placed Nazi concentration camps within the borders of modern-day Poland.

Polish authorities were upset because this made it seem like Poland established and maintained the death camps, when in fact, they were in enemy territory. The streamer will amend the series by adding on-screen text, clarifying that the death camps sat in territory occupied by the Nazis.

The text information added to the show “will make it clearer that the extermination and concentration camps in Poland were built and operated by the German Nazi regime, [which] invaded the country and occupied it from 1939-1945,” Netflix said in a statement. 

What else did ‘The Devil Next Door” leave out?

A review by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the hometown paper where Demjanjuk lived, notes that Demjanjuk is not heard from much himself, stating that “he spoke little on his own behalf. When he did, as the documentary reveals, it was often contradictory.”

The Plain Dealer also pointed out that while the docuseries devotes a lot of time and attention to the first trial in Israel, it spends relatively little time with the second trial. 

“The film would have benefited for that to have been explored in more depth. Also warranting more coverage was background on how the INS  Immigration and Naturalization Service first got the information from the Soviets, in 1975, that Demjanjuk and other Ukrainians living in America were Nazi collaborators. The man who broke the news, Michael Hanusiak, is not even mentioned by name,” the Plain Dealer wrote. 

Ultimately, the Netflix documentary presents no incontrovertible evidence that Demjanjuk was guilty — or that he was innocent, for that matter. It may be, as Time points out, that the real truth was probably somewhere in between.