Munich - Demjanjuk 'Willingly' Aided in Murder of Jews, Prosecutor Says
Munich - Prosecutors accused John Demjanjuk of playing an active role in the Nazis’ machinery of destruction, saying Tuesday that he was a willing follower of Hitler’s racist ideology as they read the indictment against the retired Ohio autoworker.
The 89-year-old, who was deported from the United States in May to stand trial in Germany, rejects the charges of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews in the Sobibor death camp, saying he has been mistaken for someone else.
Demjanjuk â€” who suffers from several medical problems â€” was wheeled in to the Munich state court on a gurney Tuesday, slightly propped up lying on his back. He arrived much the same way on Monday, the day the trial began.
A blanket covered his legs and his leather jacket was zipped up to his neck. He wore a blue baseball cap and kept his eyes closed as the 10-page indictment was read by prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz.
Demjanjuk showed little reaction, but put his left hand to his brow as Lutz detailed how Jews were stripped of their belongings and clothes, then led naked into the gas chambers of Sobibor.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk maintains that he was a Soviet soldier who was captured by the Germans, and spent most of the rest of the war in prison camps.
But Lutz told the five-judge panel he would seek to prove Demjanjuk volunteered to serve the Nazis once he had been captured, and was a willing participant in the Holocaust.
Lutz told the court that Demjanjuk learned how to be a guard at the SS training camp at Trawniki and was then posted to the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in March 1943.
“As a guard, he took part in all the various parts of the extermination process after the deportation trains arrived,” Lutz said, reading the indictment.
Lutz said Demjanjuk could have deserted, but chose to stay in the camp.
“He willingly participated in the killing of the Jews because he wanted them dead for his own racist ideological reasons,” Lutz said.
Presiding Judge Ralph Alt asked Demjanjuk if he wanted to respond to the indictment but his attorney, Ulrich Busch, said Demjanjuk would make no comment.
During a short break after the indictment was read, a doctor checked Demjanjuk, who seemed more animated than during the proceedings. He opened his eyes, talked with those around him and took a drink of water.
His defense has previously said the prosecution has no witnesses who remember Demjanjuk from Sobibor and that its other evidence is weak. They suggest Demjanjuk is a victim of mistaken identity â€” something that has happened before.
In the 1980s, Demjanjuk was extradited by the United States for trial in Israel on charges that he was the notoriously brutal guard at Treblinka who earned the moniker “Ivan the Terrible.”
Demjanjuk was convicted in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and spent seven years in prison until Israel’s Supreme Court in 1993 overturned the conviction. It ruled that another person, not Demjanjuk, was “Ivan the Terrible.”
As the trial resumed Tuesday, Busch filed a motion for the process to be thrown out, arguing that it had been illegal to deport Demjanjuk from the U.S. instead of extradite him, and that the Sobibor charges were addressed in the Israel trial so the current process constitutes double jeopardy â€” trying a person twice for the same crime.
Alt said he would rule later on the motion, but has previously rejected several similar pretrial motions by Busch.
Court sessions in the trial are scheduled through next May.
If convicted, Demjanjuk faces a possible 15 years in prison.
However, he could be given credit in sentencing for some or all of the time he spent behind bars in Israel. Even if acquitted, Demjanjuk â€” who has been stripped of his U.S. citizenship â€” likely will have to remain in Germany.
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