Accused Nazi Guard Speaks in Court Demjanjuk Says He's a 'Victim of the Germans'

The trial of John Demjanjuk, accused of 27,900 counts of assisted murder in a Nazi death camp, resumed in Munich on Tuesday. In his first lengthy statement for the trial, the Ukrainian-born defendant lashed out at the German government.

John Demjanjuk during a March court appearance in Munich.
REUTERS

John Demjanjuk during a March court appearance in Munich.


Alleged Nazi guard John Demjanjuk made his first statement in a Munich court on Tuesday, denying charges that he worked at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland and declaring himself "a victim of the Germans."

The retired Ohio autoworker, born in the Ukraine, is accused of helping to murder 27,900 Jews at Sobibor as a volunteer guard for the Nazi SS. He recently turned 90 years old and attended the trial in a hospital bed, wearing sunglasses. He let a lawyer read out the statement.

"I find it an unbearable injustice that Germany, with this trial, is trying to make me out to be a war criminal, when I was a prisoner of war, and wants to use me to distance itself from its own war crimes," defense attorney Ulrich Busch read to the court on Demjanjuk's behalf. "I am, again and again, an innocent victim of the Germans."

The Demjanjuk trial is a rare proceeding against a low-level Nazi guard, and it will be one of the last trials ever of an alleged Nazi criminal. The case is controversial, too, because Demjanjuk is not even German: As a Ukrainian during World War II he fought in the Red Army before Nazi forces captured him.

The prosecution argues that he volunteered to be a guard and participated eagerly in driving Jews to the gas chambers. Demjanjuk claims he was made a slave laborer by the Nazis, and denies working at Sobibor -- or as a guard at all. On Tuesday, he lashed out at the German government for extraditing him from the United States.

"I am thankful to the care personnel," he said in the statement. "They help reduce the great pain brought by this trial, which I consider torture."

Second Time Around

In a previous trial two decades ago, an Israeli court convicted Demjanjuk of being a Treblinka death camp guard nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible" for his cruelty to Jewish prisoners. He was sentenced to death before new evidence emerged suggesting another Ukrainian was probably the Treblinka guard.

In the current trial, Demjanjuk again claims his identity has been mistaken. But the prosecution has a new piece of evidence: a Nazi ID card showing that Demanjuk worked as an SS guard at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk maintains the card is fake. He says he never worked as a guard, spent most of the war in Nazi POW camps, and finally joined a group of anti-Communist Soviet prisoners called the Vlasov Army, which was formed to defend Germany against the advance of the Red Army in the final months of the war.

But Demjanjuk has long been at the top of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted war criminals. He spent most of his adult life in Ohio after moving to America in 1952 and becoming a naturalized citizen in 1958. A US judge revoked his citizenship in 2002 based on evidence that he had concealed his service at Sobibor. An immigration judge ruled he could be deported for trial in Germany, Poland or Ukraine.

A verdict in Munich will probably come down to testimony by experts over the authenticity of the ID card. Demjanjuk, if convicted, faces up to 15 years in prison.

msm -- with wire reports

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