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Demjanjuk faces court in last big Nazi trial

AFP · 29 Nov 2009, 17:11

Published: 29 Nov 2009 17:11 GMT+01:00

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The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk is expected to be pushed into the Munich court in a wheelchair to face 27,900 individual charges of assisted murder while a Nazi guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland between March and September 1943.

If found guilty, the infirm elderly man will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison. If acquitted, he will face an uncertain future as he has no passport and no country wants him.

Demjanjuk, deported from the United States in May after a decades-long cat-and-mouse game with justice, denies even being at Sobibor, where an estimated 250,000 men, women and children perished in the gas chambers.

But prosecutors have an SS identity card bearing his name and his transfer orders from Trawniki, a sadistic training camp for Nazi guards, to Sobibor.

Israeli and US courts have already established he was there.

More than 30 co-plaintiffs are expected to be in Munich, most of whom lost family members at the camp. There are no living eyewitnesses who saw Demjanjuk there, so prosecutors will rely heavily on testimony by people now dead.

The court has set aside the first three days to hear 19 of the co-plaintiffs. Demjanjuk will be given the opportunity to speak on Monday but it was unclear whether he would.

Demjanjuk says he was a Red Army soldier captured in 1942 by the Germans and then moved around various prisoner-of-war camps. After the war, he moved to the United States, where he was a car worker in Ohio.

"We know in our hearts that my dad never harmed anyone. And we know based on the evidence that there is absolutely no evidence that he harmed even one person," his son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said.

Demjanjuk's lawyer, Ulrich Busch, said that even if it could be proved his client was at Sobibor, he would have been there under duress and cannot now be held responsible for the atrocities carried out there.

Demjanjuk, who turns 90 in April, is suffering, his family says, from a litany of health complaints, including bone marrow disease and blood infections, and is confined to a wheelchair.

His poor health means that proceedings will be limited to two 90-minute sessions per day, and his defence team has called for the trial to be shortened and held behind closed doors due to Demjanjuk's susceptibility to infection.

"They've accelerated his death... he's not going to survive this," his son said.

The trial, in the southern German city of Munich, is not the first time the barrel-chested, round-faced Demjanjuk has been in the dock for war crimes.

Story continues below…

He was sentenced to death in Israel in 1988 for being "Ivan the Terrible", a particularly sadistic Nazi guard, but after five years on death row the conviction was overturned when it emerged that Israel had the wrong man.

For Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, the Jewish organisation that hunts Nazi war criminals, the trial is a seminal moment.

"He is the most wanted Nazi criminal, top of the list we publish ... we will finally know his exact role in the extermination machine," Zuroff said.

"All I want is for justice to be done. Nothing else," Kurt Gutmann, a co-plaintiff whose mother and brother were murdered at Sobibor, said.

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Your comments about this article

20:01 November 29, 2009 by OPB
If ISRAEL of all places let this man off the hook, then what is the reason for Germany pushing this trial? I'm certain Knobloch is lusting over this!
02:51 November 30, 2009 by wxman
Let's face it. His guilt or innocence is not the issue and it doesn't matter what he's guilty or innocent of. The point is to torment him and exacerbate his advanced age and health problems to the point where he croaks while on the witness stand. Good riddance, he's just another Nazi pos, right?? /s
14:46 November 30, 2009 by Portnoy
Israel acquitted him of being Ivan the Terrible. They didn't try him for these crimes, OPB. And I would agree with your last sentence there wxman.
15:15 November 30, 2009 by lordwilliams629
You nazi lovers make the point of israel acquitting him therefore he should be let go. So what nazi lovers are saying is that israel has a better system them germanys. What I would say is the fact that he is being charged by germany gives more weight to the charges,being the fact that he did it under the orders of the german goverment. And you nazis who say germany should give him asylum if acquitted, well thats good cause maybe you can put him up in your flat cause we dont want this scum bag back in our country.
15:18 November 30, 2009 by sergiodefcom
In my opinion, it´s long time ago that Israel lost the outority to judge "assasins". The acctions of sionist policy in Palestine and the exploitation of their companys in Africa have caused thousands perhaps millions of death for inocents also. Anyway, the hate will be never the correct way to the peace. I would like this man was judge with more evidences than a simply ss identity card and i think that when the last nazi falls, Simon Wiesenthal centre can beguins to judge the crimes of sionism against childrens in Palestine, however we don´t need a special organization to know about those crimes because we can see them while our launch in tv every day. The new "mauer" is now in Gaza. It´s many years ago that the hate in Europe stopped without nevermore revenge, perhaps the people of Israel will learn this from us one day. I hope this day come soon and to bring some of peace for the world.
15:54 November 30, 2009 by Celeon
"He is the most wanted Nazi criminal, top of the list we publish ... we will finally know his exact role in the extermination machine," Zuroff said."

Really? How?

The only piece of evidence the prosecutor has is that id card.

There are no living eyewitnesses that could identify him, confirm that he was really there or accuse him of certain crimes.

Additionaly the prosecutor will have to admit that he was a POW so he cannot even proof wether he was a volunteer.

Demjanuk's attorney can claim that he was forced into the job and the only piece of evidence the prosecutor has , the id card, is useless for countering that claim as everone recieved one, no matter if forced worker or volunteer.

The whole case stands on so weak legs i am surprised that he was charged at all.

So the judges could find that the id card is enough of a proof that he really was once in Sobibor and really did the job the card speaks of.

But nobody can proof what his exact job at Sobibor was, (guard is a rather weak job description) , how long he was there or if he did whatever he did with passion or was forced to do it by the threat of his own death.

Theoretically he could claim that his duty as a "guard" was nothing else but to walk into the next village and get food for the other guards and overseers.

Try to proof that this is a lie.

Innocent until the guilt is proven.

So its not his task to proof that his claims are true , its the prosecutor that has to proof they are lies. And for that he has nothing but a single old piece of paper.

Im sure the judges will have to clear him in the end , no matter what they or anyone else believes.
17:07 November 30, 2009 by lordwilliams629
Well Celeon,part of having trials is laying out the evidence, the proof your seeing is whats in the press such as the Id card, which should bring out questions, if he never had anything to do with the extermination of jews why is there an Id card that shows he was a guard or an employee of the camp. You talk like thats meaningless because its only one peice, well that peice seems to at least validate the fact that he did work for the nazis in an extermination camp. Also i have followed this off and on threw the years and from my memory he did in fact admit to being a guard but denied having anything to do with the killings, so him being a guard is in fact already established. And as far as more evidence lets see what the trial brings, i'm sure there's more than what was only released to the press. Also one other comment about your missguided comments Celeon, if it was the Id and only the Id that is bringing him to trial, then why haven't many other guards with the same ID's never been brought to trials threw the years, why only him as you claim? and remember this celeon sometimes one peice of evidence is proof of more than just one thing, such as a birth certificate that tells who i am who my parent's was, where they was born and so on. This ID tells at least 3 differnt things (1) he worked for the nazis (2)he worked at sobibor (3) the time in which he worked at sobibor.
00:36 December 1, 2009 by berlinski
Maybe he is innocent. This appears to be a lynch mob trial. First we try him, then we hang him.
00:07 December 2, 2009 by Thames
If he is guilty he should pay. However, it will be very difficult to prove.

I fear since there are so view true perpatrators of the Holocost left, that people who joined the SS to avoid being used as slave labor themselves, may be prosecuted. This may well be the case with Demjanjuk.
15:25 December 3, 2009 by Kovalskyy
Germans killed millions of Jews. Germans organized concentration camps. Germans organized Holocost. And now Germans organized the Last Nazi Trail in Munich with only suspect: the Ukrainian. Shame for Germany, shame for the people who do not protest against this farce. I lost last respect for this nation. By the way could you imagine that the last suspect is Russian, French or Brit. Of course, not. It can be only Ukrainian, or Bielorussian, or Moldavian and so on. These countries are too weak to protest. SHAME FOR GERMANY AND SHAME FOR GERMANS. Smart final of the Second World War story. Shame...
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