Jewish Journal

Demjanjuk trial starts in Germany

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 30, 2009 | 12:11 pm

JTA previewed this story last week, the day of reckoning has come for John Demjanjuk, the former auto worker accused of being Ivan the Terrible from a Nazi concentration camp.

Wearing a blue baseball cap, the bespectacled Mr. Demjanjuk arrived in the courtroom in a wheelchair pushed by a German police officer. His eyes were closed, and he was covered from his dark sneakers to his neck by a sky-blue blanket. His appearance followed arguments by his lawyers and family that he was too sick to stand trial, suffering from a variety of ailments including bone marrow disease. But doctors have concluded that he is fit to stand trial, provided that hearings are restricted to two 90-minute sessions a day.


Prosecutors say they are confident that they can convict Mr. Demjanjuk of the accessory counts based on an SS identity card and the orders sending him to Sobibor from the Trawniki training camp for Nazi guards. But Mr. Demjanjuk’s lawyers question the authenticity of the documents.

Because Sobibor was an extermination camp — devoted almost entirely to killing — rather than a concentration camp, work as a guard there meant assisting in mass murder, prosecutors will argue.

“When a transport of Jews arrived, routine work was suspended and all camp personnel took part in the routine process of extermination,” according to the indictment. The unloading of the trains proceeded “with loud cries, blows and also shots. If people refused to come out, the Trawnikis entered the cars and forced those who hesitated, with violence, out of the train and onto the ramp.” The proceedings, which could last until next May, have been described as the last major Nazi war crimes trial, but new cases keep surfacing as research continues into the systematic murder of European Jews during the Holocaust.

Tom Teicholz has written a lot in the past about Demjanjuk, including a book about his prosecution in Israel two decades ago.

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