Nazi death camp survivor gives testimony at Demjanjuk trial | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.01.2010
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Nazi death camp survivor gives testimony at Demjanjuk trial

Thomas Blatt, one of the few survivors of the Sobibor Nazi death camp, has begun his testimony at the trial of alleged former guard John Demjanjuk. Blatt described the horrors of the camp but did not identify Demjanjuk.

Thomas Blatt

Blatt escaped but his family was killed in Sobibor

The trial against John Demjanjuk continued Tuesday with testimony by Thomas Blatt, one of the last survivors of the Nazi death camp Sobibor, where Demjanjuk is alleged to have worked as a guard.

Blatt said he could not recall the faces of the guards from 1943 but said that "only Ukrainians like Mr Demjanjuk guarded us." He described the horror of the death camp where his parents and brother were killed in the gas chambers.

Blatt managed to escape in 1943 and after the war went to live in the United States.

"I go there in my dreams. They are so real. In them I am still there," said 82-year old Blatt. "I can't get it out of my head. This is the price I paid for getting out."

John Demjanjuk

Demjanjuk denies ever having worked at Sobibor

Ahead of his testimony, Blatt told reporters "I'm not after revenge. I only seek justice. This will be important historically 200 years from now."

John Demjanjuk is accused of being accessory to the murders of 27,900 people during his time as a guard at Sobibor. After the war he emigrated to the US and last year was extradited to Germany. Demjanjuk denies ever having worked in the camp.

"Every second we were threatened with death"

Thomas Blatt and fellow witness Philip Bialowitz, 84, escaped from Sobibor during a camp revolt in October 1943. Around 50 inmates managed to climb over the fences and go into hiding.

Blatt and Bialowitz are co-plaintiffs at the trial, as their direct relatives were killed at Sobibor.

However, both have said that their memory of the events was not good enough to identify Demjanjuk as one of the guards.

"It was 65 years ago," Blatt said. "That is a long time. My memory isn't that good now. I can't even remember the faces of my parents and brothers."

There are no surviving witnesses able to identify John Demjanjuk as one of the guards but the prosecution has an old identity card from a training camp from where he was transferred to Sobibor.

Sobibor memorial

A memorial at the site of the Sobibor commemorates those killed in the death camp

"The Ukrainians were always there, they were the most important personnel in Sobibor," Blatt told the court. "Without them, the death factory wouldn't have functioned."

Ukrainian prisoners captured from the Soviet Red Army were forced by the Nazis to work as guards - so called Trawnikis - in the prison camps, but Blatt said that, for Demjanjuk as a guard, there was a chance to escape.

"Lots of Ukrainians ran away, they were able to run away. He was free to go. I had a death sentence."

Demjanjuk followed proceedings in court lying on a stretcher, his eyes closed. His family and lawyers claim he is too ill to stand trial, yet a medical assessment has determined that his health is good enough. Due to a back illness, he is confined to a stretcher.

The trial of John Demjanjuk is expected to be one of the last major trials dealing with Nazi atrocities and war crimes from the Second World War.


Editor: Susan Houlton

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