1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Demjanjuk trial

December 22, 2009

A Munich court heard further evidence from survivors and family members on Tuesday on John Demjanjuk's alleged involvement in mass murder. Demjanjuk's defense lawyer repeated his plea to dismiss the case.

John Demjanjuk in court yesterday, sitting in his wheelchair and wearing a cap.
Demjanjuk was in court after a three-week halt to the trialImage: AP

After more testimony from survivors of the Sobibor death camp and their family members, the trial of John Demjanjuk is to take a three-week break to resume on January 12.

Concentration camp survivors are among 30 co-plaintiffs in an action that claims Demjanjuk assisted in the murders of at least 27,900 people at the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland, between March and September 1943.

A memorial at the Sobibor concentration camp
Up to 250,000 Jews are thought to have died at SobiborImage: AP

Demjanjuk, 89, sat in a wheelchair wearing a baseball cap and with his eyes shut during the proceedings.

Defense attorney Ulrich Busch asked the court for a second time to dismiss the case, claiming that the judges are biased and should be removed.

"I think I am right in my position that Mr. Demjanjuk is innocent and that the court is not legally established to take this case and to judge Mr. Demjanjuk," Busch said. "He regrets what the Nazis did to the Jews, but he himself is a victim."

Prosecuting for parents

Among those who gave evidence on Tuesday in the trial of alleged former death camp guard Demjanjuk is Jules Schelvis, 89, who was deported to Sobibor with his wife in 1943. While she was sent straight to the gas chamber, he was selected for work.

A 70-year-old man, whose father and pregnant mother were killed at Sobibor, told the court, "I am prosecuting on behalf of my parents," before adding, "I am also prosecuting on behalf of my unborn brother or sister."

A 67-year-old man who had been a baby when his father was taken said he did not find out what had happened until the age of six or seven.

"I asked my mother why I didn't have any father to play football with like other boys did," he said. He was told and later found out that 74 of his relatives had been murdered in Nazi concentration camps.

The trial had resumed after a three-week adjournment for Demjanjuk to recover from a slight infection. Proceedings are limited to two 90-minute sessions per day on the grounds of his poor health.

An identity card showing that Demjanjuk was posted to Sobibor.
The identity card that has been put forward as evidenceImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The case is likely to be the last major Nazi-era war crimes trial in Germany.

Captured and recruited

Demjanjuk was born in Ukraine and fought in the Soviet army but was captured by the Nazis and recruited as a camp guard.

After World War II he emigrated to the United States, where he lived in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio before being extradited to Germany in May. If convicted of being an accessory to murder, he could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors say that up to 250,000 Jews died at the camp, which was run by 20 to 30 members of the Nazi SS troop corps and up to 150 former Soviet prisoners. They say that victims died within 20 to 30 minutes of inhaling a mixture of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

Among the prosecution's evidence is an identity card which appears to show that Demjanjuk worked at Sobibor. While he acknowledges having been at other camps, he claims that he was never there.

His lawyers say that he should not be tried after being cleared of the same allegations, on the same evidence, by an Isreali court in 1993.

Editor: Chuck Penfold