December 4, 2009 | 7:17 pm
Posted by Tom Teicholz
A few thoughts on the first week of the Demjanjuk trial in Munich:
One of the most interesting aspects thus far, to my mind, and little remarked upon, is that the co-plaintiffs in the case are Dutch and their relatives were transported to Sobibor from the Netherlands and murdered there.
I don’t know why I should find that surprising. Perhaps it’s because I associate Nazi extermination camps such as Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka as the place where much of Polish Jewry was murdered. Similarly, Auschwitz is known as the graveyard of French and Hungarian Jewry. Until now the fate of Dutch Jewry has not been much discussed. When the deportation and murder of the Dutch Jews is mentioned, it is often discussed in regard to Anne Frank, who after being arrested was deported to Westerbrook and from there to Bergen Belsen where she died of typhus.
Like Anne Frank, the majority of Dutch Jews, who numbered around 140,000 before the Holocaust, were sent to the Westerbook transit camp. From there, however, the greatest group were sent to Auschwitz. A few were sent to camps such as Theresienstadt and Bergen Belsen. What I did not know was that 19 train transports with more than 34,000 Jewish men, women and children were sent to Sobibor – they arrived between March and July of 1943 and most were murdered within an hour of arrival.
According to his Trawniki Nazi service ID card, Demjanjuk arrived in Sobibor in 1943 on March 27. Prosecutors have used the train transport records to calculate that 28,700 Jews were murdered while Demjanjuk served there.
Like any murder trial, the dead can not stand in the dock. It is the task of the prosecution, and in great part the purpose of the trial – to show that these people lived, that when murdered their lives were not erased. One unexpected aspect of the Demjanjuk trial is that it may open our eyes to the fate of Dutch Jewry.
It’s also worth noting that the German Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, all born after the end of World War II, appear thus far to be undertaking their tasks in a manner that as one witness said, is a credit to the free democratic society that Germany has become.
Some of the co-plaintiff’s and a few observers took issue with the accommodations the Court has made for Demjanjuk’s health and age. But “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.” The court going out of its way to be fair is a good thing.
The defense can be faulted for dragging out of its bag of tricks a whiff of threatening to put Germany on trial (much like Verges the defense attorney in the Barbie trial in Germany said he would put France on trial – it played well before the trial but made little impact inside the courtroom), and also for putting forward the objectionable and to my mind, tired notion, that there was somehow some equivalence between Demjanjuk and his victims at Sobibor. I’m not sure what the upside of these arguments which have no chance of succeeding are — perhaps they are mean to intimidate witnesses. In any event, the defense seems to be doing whatever they can – grasping at every straw possible – and doing their best to work around Demjanjuk’s denials and his behavior in court.
Finally, Demjanjuk’s behavior demands comment. Pulling a baseball cap over his head, lying on a stretcher, pulling a blanket over him, closing his eyes, moaning and mumbling prayers, being unresponsive to the Judge, all this strikes me as the behavior of a man desperately trying to block out where is and what’s going on. But he is choosing a way to do so that calls tremendous attention to himself, in a way that makes him look somewhat pitiful. It is a very passive, very passive aggressive reaction to confronting the charges against him. It is disrespectful of the court, the trial and the witnesses. It denies the plaintiffs the opportunity to truly confront Demjanjuk – he is very much trying to absent himself from the process – a quite cowardly reaction.
Demjanjuk’s back pain is said to derive from shrapnel in his back – and it bears saying that Demjanjuk’s Trawniki card that puts him at Sobibor lists among identifying details, Demjanjuk having a scar on his back.
Will Demjanjuk, due to his health and his antics, be successful at derailing the trial? It’s possible. At the Israeli trial – as the time of sentencing came closer, Demjanjuk voiced similar complaints. The Court allowed him to watch the trial from his jail room cell. In Germany, they have the possibility of actually holding the trial in the prison if necessary. However, there is no going back – nothing Demjanjuk can do can diminish the charges against him, the evidence against him, and the testimony heard this week about the Dutch Jews murdered at Sobibor.
12.7.11 at 1:18 pm | On Dec. 19, as part of their 25th anniversary. . .
9.13.11 at 6:33 pm | In the reaction to the announcement that Mel. . .
9.30.10 at 12:05 pm | Tony Curtis died yesterday of cardiac arrest at. . .
1.28.10 at 6:18 pm | J. D. Salinger, the novelist whose “Catcher in. . .
12.22.09 at 4:19 pm | I was a little concerned that my daughter and her. . .
12.21.09 at 8:22 pm |
1.28.10 at 6:18 pm | J. D. Salinger, the novelist whose “Catcher in. . . (6)
12.21.09 at 8:22 pm | (5)
9.13.11 at 6:33 pm | In the reaction to the announcement that Mel. . . (4)
We welcome your feedback.
Your information will not be shared or sold without your consent. Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com has rules for its commenting community.Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com reserves the right to use your comment in our weekly print publication.