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Stretcher-bound Nazi guard Demjanjuk tried

AFP · 30 Nov 2009, 16:02

Published: 30 Nov 2009 16:02 GMT+01:00

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Demjanjuk, accused of helping to kill 27,900 people at the Sobibor camp in Poland, was covered in a white blanket from head-to-toe at the start of the second session of what is likely to be the last major Nazi trial.

Twenty minutes into the session the judge ordered a break because Demjanjuk, who was writhing about and waving his arm, complained of a headache. Twenty-eight minutes later he was brought back in, this time with his face uncovered.

This occurred just as medical experts were telling the court that he was fit to be tried.

In the first 90-minute session the defendant had been in a wheelchair, wearing a baseball cap, a leather jacket and thick glasses. When it ended, he was taken out groaning.

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, was unmoved, saying: "It's a pathetic attempt to appear more crippled than he is. He belongs in Hollywood."

Demjanjuk denies being at Sobibor, one of a network of camps erected by Adolf Hitler's Germany in Eastern Europe with the sole purpose of mass extermination.

Prosecutors say they have an SS identity card bearing his name and transfer orders. He is accused of being at Sobibor from March to September 1943. If convicted, the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk will almost certainly spend the rest of his days behind bars. If not, he will face an uncertain future as he is stateless, having been stripped of his US citizenship.

There are more than 30 plaintiffs in the case, most of whom lost family members at Sobibor. There are no living eyewitnesses who saw Demjanjuk there, so prosecutors will rely heavily on written testimony by people now dead.

Robert Cohen, a gaunt 83-year-old from Amsterdam whose parents and brother died at Sobibor, and who himself survived the Auschwitz death camp, was in no doubt that camp guards had blood on their hands.

"If he (Demjanjuk) was there, he killed more than 100 people per day - per day! That would be the worst crime ever," Cohen told reporters. "He was one of the guards. The guards were all murderers," said Robert Franzman, another Dutch plaintiff.

Thomas Blatt, 82, who survived Sobibor and who is due to testify in January, said that whatever Demjanjuk's punishment, it will not fit the crime.

"I don't want revenge against Demjanjuk, I just want him to say the truth," Blatt said. "If it were up to me I wouldn't even put him in jail. I don't feel hate for him. There is no price he could pay for what he has done."

Fellow plaintiff Rivka Bitterman from Jerusalem agreed: "I believe he will face justice on the other side. In this world there is no punishment that is fitting."

Demjanjuk says he was a Red Army soldier captured in 1942 by the Germans and then moved around various prisoner-of-war camps, but Israeli and US courts have already established he was at Sobibor, one of many non-German guards.

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

In court on Monday, Busch hit out at what he called "moral and legal double standards" of bringing Demjanjuk to trial while German SS members who were at Sobibor were acquitted.

"How can it be that those who gave the orders can have been innocent," he said. This is the first time that a non-German has been tried in Germany over the Holocaust.

Demjanjuk was sentenced to death in Israel in 1988 for being "Ivan the Terrible", a sadistic Nazi guard, but after five years on death row the conviction was overturned when Israel established this was another man.

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Your comments about this article

17:09 November 30, 2009 by mixxim
Was this man doing what the german government wanted at the time? How can he be put on trial in the country that gave him that job?

Beware all those of you in Iraq and Afghanistan, a change of Government may brand you as criminal.
05:23 December 1, 2009 by copy
What does that say :

Demjanjuk was sentenced to death in Israel in 1988 for being "Ivan the Terrible", a sadistic Nazi guard, but after five years on death row the conviction was overturned when Israel established this was another man.

Why don't they put the whole country on trail. Everybody living in Germany at that time knew about the death camps but did nothing. Now a second generation is trying to live it down but they keep getting it shoved up their ass Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government. You better worry about your economy, whats left of it. What are you going to do when there is no one left to convict or go to trial because they all died of old age? You can dig up the dead and start some new trials. I am shame to be even connected to Germany by my relatives. Your sick as Efraim Zuroff.
07:19 December 1, 2009 by Garth Rex
Can a disabled 89 year old man reasonably be expected to competently defend himself in a trial for crimes allegedly committed over a half century ago?

Quite simply, it could be argued that the man simply cannot get a fair trial. It is too late. He is too old...much too much time has gone by. Everyone hates the crimes committed by the Nazis...but, hopefully, the responsible German judges will throw this case out because the basic requisites of a fair and responsible trial cannot now be met.

TIME is about to judge this man. TIME will carry out the sentence of its own court. The trial by a German court at this time is pointless.

The German justice system will harm, rather than help, its own reputation by proceeding with a trial that could/will be condemned as a farce....and deemed to be beyond responsible jurisprudence.
08:01 December 1, 2009 by arbeitsmunich
ok you are all not german here commenting, so its our system shut up ang look your own country what's going on.
11:09 December 1, 2009 by Portnoy
Garth he can and is defending himself - it's an opportunity society is giving him that he did not give to his victims. Time is not judging him. He has the advantage of time that his victims did not.
14:22 December 1, 2009 by Bushdiver
Not to take away any of the terrible things that happened during the Holocaust putting a practically 90 year old person on trial for what happed almost 65 years ago makes no sense. He may be guilty or not of the crimes he's accused of but even if he is, it's a bit too late now to try to convict him. This guy will probably be dead in the next couple of years anyway and it won't change a thing about what happened neary 65 years ago. I think it's time to not forget but to finally close the door on Nazi hunting. Most are either dead or not far from it.
07:26 December 2, 2009 by Thames
While thousands die around the world no one lifts a finger. But Germany can put all this effort in to this case. We can't bring back those killed in the Holocaust. All the major criminals are long gone. Why hound this old man who was probably faced with the choice of going to be a slave laborer himself or "volunteer for the SS". Besides how can they be sure after all these years they have the right person. Only if they are completely sure and only than should they put him in prison. The German government seems obsessed with

making up for the Nazi era. Perhaps in this pursuit they are ruining the lives of a man and his family.
03:12 December 3, 2009 by Lezaar
This is most definitely a bad choice for Germany!

If our government changes, in ten years would we arrest the men and women killing thousands of Arabians over seas?!
04:47 December 3, 2009 by kanakuk101
I believe that this trial is just utterly not logical. I mean this guy was forced to kill those people. He didn't want to let his country down even though what he was doing was a horrible thing, but his choice was either, he dies because he wasn't listening to what Hitler wanted him to do or he saves his life and kills other people like his boss wanted him to do. Since our world is pretty much selfish he chose to kill the Jewish people. Now he is going to trial because what he was told to do? Its like in 10-15 years our American soldiers going to jail for life because they are killing thousands of Arabians like every year! So, they need to let this guys go because hes old anyways and there is no point on wasting our time and their money on him for doing a bad deed.
04:55 December 3, 2009 by vcs
i dont think he should be triedby the contry that gave him the orders to do this. this is what happens during wars. it wasnt his fault. now if another country wants to take him as a P.O.W. and try him, then that is the way to handle this because it was his orders.
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