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John Demjanjuk’s Nazi War Criminal Trial in Germany December 9, 2009

Posted by cristobalgomez in Uncategorized.
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The Nazi war crimes trial of John Demjanjuk, who is accused of murdering 27,900 Jews during the Holocaust, started in Germany with his attorney claiming that Demjanjuk is a scapegoat for German guilt over the Holocaust stating, “that Germany “wants to be acquitted through this trial by finding people from other nations guilty.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is being represented at the trial by longtime lawyer Martin Mendelsohn and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Center’s Chief Nazi-Hunter and Director of its Israel Office who has just released his book, Operation Last Chance.

SWC First-Hand Accounts from the Courtroom:

On Monday, November 30 the trial began against John Demjanjuk, accused by the German government of assisting  in the murders of more than 27,000 Jews while a “Wachman” at the Sobibor Extermination Camp in Poland.  This case has historic meaning because while it may be the last ‘major’ case tried in Germany it is the first time a non German has been charged by Germany with Nazi War crimes and brought to trial in Germany.

The trial is expected to last at least 6 months. Despite press reports a panel of medical doctors has declared him medically fit to stand trial. Testimony will include Thomas Blatt who survived Sobibor and participated and escaped in the Sobibor revolt on October 14, 1943. Blatt and Philip Bialowitz (“Nebenklägers” or co-plaintiffs) will be represented in the trial by Wiesenthal Center counsel Martin Mendelsohn who previously represented Nebenklägers in the criminal case of war crimes against Josef Schwammberger who was tried and convicted in Stuttgart in 1991. Schwammberger died in prison.
From Martin Mendelsohn, ESQ., – Munich, Germany

If the first day of the Demjanjuk trial is any indication of what to expect, the court will have a difficult time to maintain the legitimacy of the prosecution in view of the antics employed by the accused, who put on quite a show in his efforts to prevent his conviction and punishment.

In fact, even to the untrained observer, it was clear that the former Sobibor guard was out to convince the public that his incarceration and prosecution were a terribly cruel mistake and that a trial would in his case, serve no purpose since he obviously was hopelessly ill and could not follow the court proceedings.

This was undoubtedly one of the dominant images for those attending the trial, to which Demjanjuk was wheeled in on what looked like a mobile hospital bed and spent the entire time looking completely disoriented and incapable of following the proceedings. Observers later claimed that the minute the trial concluded, he immediately perked up, which would not be surprising knowing his antics in the US to try and prevent his deportation to Germany, but in any event, there is no doubt that the court will have to proceed in an intelligent manner to deal with this problem.

Another issue which came up already yesterday and has been raised in Germany, relates to the question of “equal justice.” Why should Demjanjuk be prosecuted and face a possible 15 year sentence if commanders and other guards who served in the camps in which he served were either ignored by the prosecutors, or acquitted, or given much lighter sentences than the one he is facing? The obvious response would be that many such mistakes should not be compounded by yet another such error, but it remains to be seen what the response of the prosecution in Munich will be.

The incredible media coverage of the trial is yet another reminder of the importance of such trials and their resonance in the broader world public. In that respect, the unusual history of the Demjanjuk case undoubtedly has fueled public interest, but it is the crimes at the Sobibor death camp which will be exposed to the public, which is exactly as it should be.

From Dr. Efraim Zuroff – Munich, Germany

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