Demjanjuk trial connects victims′ families to the past | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.01.2010
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Demjanjuk trial connects victims' families to the past

In the trial of suspected Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk, the courtroom is not only filled with officials, lawyers, and media. Family members of Sobibor death camp victims are there too, hearing stories of survival.

A patch with the word 'jew' in the shape of a Star of David

Symbols and stories are sometimes all that is left for families of Holocaust victims

At the trial of suspected Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk, a group of people stands out in the Munich courtroom. They are Dutch co-plaintiffs in the case, many of whom lost family members at the Sobibor death camp during World War II. They have traveled to Munich to hear the testimony of witnesses who survived the camp, such as 83-year-old Thomas Blatt who testified this week.

One of Blatt's jobs at Sobibor was sorting through the remains of people's lives – recycling their belongings and burning their papers. The Nazi officials did not only kill the Jews at Sobibor, they also tried to rob them of their identities. Professor Martin Haas was hidden as a child in Holland and escaped the horrors of the camps, but his parents died at Sobibor. Haas admires Thomas Blatt for coming to testify at the trial.

Thomas Blatt stands next to lawyer Michael Friedman at the trial of John Demjanjuk

Thomas Blatt, left, shared his story of survival in court

"The conditions there in these camps were unbelievable," Haas said in Munich. "We can hardly imagine it, sitting in a clean room with judges and attorneys."

Another survivor who testified on Thursday was 84-year-old Philip Bialowitz, who said he was selected along with his brother to help unload Jews from trains as they arrived at the prison. Many of them, he said, were already dead.

Responsibility to remember

Some of the co-plaintiffs from Holland have come out of a sense of duty to the memories of their family members who died in the camps.

"I read about the Sobibor camp myself because my mother, my father, my sister lost their lives in this camp," said David van Hueyden. "This camp was one of the worst in the Second World War. There were mine fields. It was impossible to escape. There was no chance when you arrived by train of escaping the gas chambers."

Virtually all the witnesses, co-plaintiffs and relatives of survivors agree that it is never too late for justice. They have little sympathy for the 89-year old Demjanjuk who is brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair and then listens to the testimony lying motionless in a hospital bed placed next to the judge's bench. They pay tribute to the German justice system and how it is handling what could be the last of the Nazi war crimes trials.

Author: Mariana Schroeder (mz/dpa/ap)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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