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Germany criticised for Nazi trial double standards

AFP · 1 Dec 2009, 16:38

Published: 01 Dec 2009 16:38 GMT+01:00

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Demjanjuk's lawyer Ulrich Busch argues that the case is a farce because German SS members at the Sobibor death camp, where he is accused of being a guard, were acquitted in earlier trials.

"How can it be that those who gave the orders can have been found innocent?" Demjanjuk's lawyer asked a packed Munich courtroom on Monday on the first day of what is likely to be the last major Holocaust trial.

Demjanjuk, 89, was born in Ukraine and was one of 5.5 million Red Army soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans in 1942 as they swept eastwards before the tide turned and the Soviets began rolling back towards Berlin.

More than three million Soviet prisoners of war like Demjanjuk are believed to have died in captivity, either murdered by the Germans or from cold and hunger - but Demjanjuk was allegedly offered a way out.

While a prisoner, prosecutors say, he was recruited to work as a guard in one of the network of camps set up by the Nazis with the sole purpose of liquidating as many Jews and other enemies of the regime as possible.

He allegedly passed through the Trawniki training camp on his way to Sobibor, a camp in occupied Poland where a quarter of a million men, women and children from all over Europe perished in the gas chambers.

Deported from the United States in May, he is charged with assisting in the murder of 27,900 victims, the number of people on some 15 transports estimated to have died at Sobibor during Demjanjuk's service at the camp in 1943.

Some experts say that Demjanjuk's defence team may have a point.

"It is problematic that German guards at Sobibor were acquitted at the Hagen trials in the 1960s, whereas a foreigner who was forced to obey orders or die of hunger could be convicted," said historian Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg.

But Stefan Schünemann, a lawyer representing some of the 30 or so survivors from Sobibor and other camps who are acting as co-plaintiffs or witnesses in Demjanjuk's trial, said this no reason to let him off.

"If the German justice system made mistakes in the past, it is right that we should try and rectify them," Schünemann said.

What is happening is a change of approach by Germany through attempts to bring to justice some of the many non-Germans who helped them murder six million Jews in the Holocaust, experts say.

"This is the first time that a foreigner trained at Trawniki ... has been tried in Germany," said historian Annette Weinke from Jena University. "There has not been a systematic enquiry into foreign collaborators."

Story continues below…

The reason for the change of heart is a new political will, Weinke said.

Siegfried Kauder, chairman of the German parliament's legal affairs committee, said the German legal system "had no reason to reproach itself" but he admitted that Germany had been slow to bring non-Germans to trial.

"It is a political decision to decide whether someone who is not German should be tried in Germany," Kauder said.

He added that former foreign minister Joschka Fischer, for example, on one occasion turned down a request from the United States for a war crimes trial to be held in Germany.

"I am happy that in this case we have decided differently," he said.

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Your comments about this article

17:37 December 1, 2009 by Soonerdiver
The previous guards were tried and acquitted... now give this man his day in court! He should be tried, the evidence weighed and either convicted or acquitted also.

A silly question... he appears to be a man without a country; what will happen to him if he is acquitted? His US citizenship has been revoked... will Germany keep him?
20:39 December 1, 2009 by Portnoy
Trek, you are ignorant. Israel tried him as Ivan the Terrible and discovered he is not Ivan the Terrible. That is why there are courts of law. This dude deserves his day in court as much as his victims deserve it. Germany is doing OK. It's a tough history to come to terms with as long as you come to terms with it (and I mean you America and your crap Native American legacy).
20:53 December 1, 2009 by Wabit
I don't know why, but I feel that the appearance of this Guy in Court on a stretcher is a sham!!! He did this kind of thing before in the usa when he was to be trial and claimed he was too ill to attend? And yet secret filming showed him to be just Hunky Dorey.... He is a consumate liar!!! This time his play acting will not be of much help to him.
20:55 December 1, 2009 by wxman

The skeleton of Kennewick Man was discovered a few years ago in the state of Washington. It was 8,400 years old and was determined to be Caucasian. There is no such thing as a "Native American legacy". We simply took the continent back from the Asians who stole it from us thousands of years earlier.
00:48 December 2, 2009 by lordwilliams629
Portnoy your the idiot Denjanjuk was never tried in israel, he was taken to israel and then released when they determined there was not enough proof to determine him as ivan the terrible. But that still dont mean he wasn't a war criminal. "You nazi lover"
01:20 December 2, 2009 by Soonerdiver
For "lordwilliams629"... not really sure what papers you read but Mr. Denjanjuk WAS tried in Isreal for the war crimes, convicted and served 8 years (I believe it was) and the Supreme Court of Isreal overturned the conviction as someone else was ID as Ivan the Terrible.

For a "lord" your knowledge of world events are very limited.
03:35 December 2, 2009 by 1FCK_1FCK
Wabit: I'm with you. They'd roll Demjanjuk into court in a coffin if they could get away with it. The only thing wrong with him is he's old. He's been photographed & videotaped walking just fine back in the US. He gets to Germany & suddenly he's on his death bed. Whatever.

This man should be tried & if found guilty setenced to jail time. The fact that German & Austrian Nazis littered their respective justice systems in the postwar period and therefore let a lot of guilty people go unpunished does not mean that Demjanjuk should therefore go free. Plenty of mistakes were made, starting with Hans Globke. But it's never too late for justice, unless the perps have died. Unfortunately most have. But Germany had to wait until a non-Nazi generation took over its institutions before real justice could begin to be served.
05:16 December 2, 2009 by janreg58
How about all the war crimes that the Russians commited against the German civilians, all the rape and murder of innocent women and children. And what about the horrible experiments the Japanese did on the Chinese. They gave all the results of their experiments to the US and everything was forgiven. Let this poor old man live the rest of his days in peace.If he commited a crime, God will be the judge of him. Those who judge, will be judged themselves someday.
06:07 December 2, 2009 by Cheney
Secular Judaisms form of forgiveness. The Israeli Courts let this man off. This is how they treat our elderly. Lets look at how the secular Judaic Bernie Madoff destroyed lives. You think this shylock wont be out in a few years. Look at how they let go the Secular Judaic Michael t Milken. I guess it is okay for two standards. But then look at the Talmud and its racist words. The pagans are to be treated like dogs. I guess we just eat it.
08:57 December 2, 2009 by YankeeT
"....forced to obey orders or die of hunger...."

The choice is obvious. A mature, principled person does not labor under delusions or submit to justifications that do not hold up to their principles. Once he saw what was going on in the camp he should have refused to cooperate.

I am so sick of people using magical thinking to salve their consciences or to bury their guilt or to cling to unwarranted hope.
09:23 December 2, 2009 by LancashireLad

Why did you stop at some arbitrary point in history? You do know that we are all african, don't you? I hate this flawed "everybody should go back to where they came from" style of arguing.

BTW, we (Britain) and many other countries have now actually stopped *our* empire building.


Be very careful. Unless you are put under that kind of stress you don't actually know how you will react, so it's impossibly to sensibly make that kind of statement - not that I am trying to justify any of what happened.
15:48 December 2, 2009 by bramblebush
I view this unfortunate Ukraine more as a victim than a monster as they are accusing him. A quick read about him on Wikipedia illustrated the series of errors, lies and fraud that have been perpatrated against this guy. The way I see it, he survived WWII by the best means he could. He would have died of starvation as a prisoner or been shot had he deserted his guard post. This persecution of a lowly conscript is simply another political motivated witch hunt. SHEESH, Move on....
17:24 December 2, 2009 by Dinaricman
Question when will the red army trials begin?
00:07 December 3, 2009 by lordwilliams629
Ok,Ok soonerdiver you got me on that one, its not everyday an idiot proves me wrong, so I give you credit. But I was right on what was really by bigger point and that is, charges were dropped on demjanjuk by the israelis becuase of that fact that it was proved later that he was not ivan the terrible. Which is something you purposely kept out of your original point to make it sound like israel was saying he was inocent of everything, which was not the case. Israel only said that he was mistaked for ivan the terrible, not that he was never a guard at sobibor. You need to keep your story more in depth with the facts,instead of telling a half truth.
03:23 December 3, 2009 by Davey-jo
I suppose every German railway employee over 80 is suspect? Every German civil servant over 80 has blood dripping down their sleeves. I think the German state is making a stinking fool of itself. Either prosecute every grandad and grandmom in Germany or shut up. The German justice system is a farce.
10:12 December 3, 2009 by ExileAdventure
@wxman: "There is no such thing as a "Native American legacy". We simply took the continent back from the Asians who stole it from us thousands of years earlier."

Seriously, are you for real? As an expat American, people like you shouldn't be let loose outside (or inside) the US! No wonder we've an awful reputation? What sort of education did you NOT get?!
21:26 December 3, 2009 by Le Monde
@Dinaricman - #17

Soon after we hang all of you nazis.
22:24 December 3, 2009 by wxman

Do yourself a favor and do some research. Look it up. You're ignorance is showing. Typical of the political left who deny facts to appease their politically correct senses. Ad Hominum attacks are characteristic of your type. You can't argue the facts, so you name call and disparage the opposing view. BTW such skeletons have also been found in New Mexico. These people were well dispersed across the continent long before the arrival of the Asians across the Bearing Strait.
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