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Germany

The Demjanjuk trial one year on

The trial against John Demjanjuk, who is accused of helping to murder about 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp in 1943, has been going on for a year now. But to date, no real progress has been made.

John Demjanjuk

John Demjanjuk is accused of helping to kill 28,000 Jews

It has been one year since the beginning of the trial against John Demjanjuk, who is accused of helping to murder about 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp. The 90-year-old Demjanjuk has denied the charges. Demjanjuk's case might be the last major Holocaust trial in Germany.

The trial has made little progress since it opened on November 30, 2009. One of the main problems has been a series of interruptions, said Barbara Stockinger, the spokeswoman for the public prosecutors' office in Munich.

"There have been days during the presentation of evidence in which no progress has been made due to motions being filed or other interruptions," she said. "If we could have operated more efficiently, we would have gotten much further or maybe even finished it."

Due to Demjanjuk's poor health (he suffers from low hemoglobin blood levels), the court can only meet for about three hours a day. Demjanjuk follows the hearings from a hospital bed in the courtroom where he sometimes nods off.

John Demjanjuk

Demjanjuk has been known to doze off during the hearings

"I think the defendant is sleeping," public prosecutors attorney Hans-Joachim Lutz recently told magistrate Ralph Alt during a court hearing.

In addition to that, Demjanjuk's lawyer, Ulrich Busch has been accused of purposely trying to delay the trial by recycling evidence, which was previously rejected. At the start of the trial, Busch accused the judges of being biased against his client. On some occasions, the hearings have degenerated into shouting matches between Busch and the presiding judge, Ralph Alt.

"Not a perpetrator but a victim"

According to Busch, Demjanjuk regards himself not as a perpetrator but as a victim. "He still sees himself as a prisoner of war, he views the proceedings as a form of torture," he said. "Of course he also gets owerwhelmed because of his mental health, he is in total despair."

Demjanjuk was born in Ukraine and was first taken prisoner of war by the Nazis. Barbara Stockinger, the spokeswoman for the prosecutors' office, said that the evidence provided so far does show that Demjanjuk committed the crimes he is accused of.

Ulrich Busch

Defense lawyer Busch says there is no evidence against his client

But this of course looks completely different to defense lawyer Busch. "Over the past year, the court has not found one piece of evidence that implicates Demjanjuk," he said. "And even though the court might express the opinion that he is guilty - an opinion is just a belief. And a belief is no foundation for a verdict in accordance with the rule of law," he added.

But there is little doubt that Demjanjuk was in Sobibor. This view is echoed by Cornelius Nestler, a law professor who represents relatives of Sobibor victims. To him, one very probing question is whether Demjanjuk acted to save himself from the Nazi terror. "But there has been no indication whatsoever to support that," he said.

Demjanjuk was put on trial once before in Israel, but that country's Supreme Court overturned his conviction of having been a guard at the Treblinka camp, ruling that he had been the victim of mistaken identity.

The Munich trial is expected to continue until at least March of 2011.

Author: Sarah Steffen (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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