Demjanjuk 'not fragile', say experts

By Toby Axelrod, December 23, 2009
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Demjanjuk wheeled into court as his trial resumes after a hiatus

Demjanjuk wheeled into court as his trial resumes after a hiatus

The war crimes trial of John Demjanjuk has resumed and is no less bizarre than when it started three weeks ago.

Demjanjuk, 89, is charged with being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews, as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in 1943. Each day he is rolled into the Munich District courtroom in a wheelchair or on a gurney, wrapped in a blanket. But medical expert witnesses have assured the court he is neither frail nor senile, but simply old.

Last month, chief defence attorney Ulrich Busch suggested that his client was just as much a victim as were Jews who were forced to work for the Nazis.

Now he has taken this a step further, suggesting that Jewish “police” at a transit camp in Holland might have been “worse than Nazis”. And he also denigrated the testimony of Dutch survivors who took the stand, saying there was no way any of them would ever be able to place his client at the scene.

For the defence, this point is key. As co-defence attorney Gunther Maull said, the court’s argumentation is “totally new. Usually, you have to prove that someone was acting. Here, the trend is clear, that it is enough for them to show that he [Demjanjuk] was there.”

Should his client be found guilty, this will be the basis of an appeal.

But Demjanjuk “has no guilt on his conscience”, Archbishop Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, told reporters. The Archbishop had flown in from New Jersey to visit the accused. They spoke together in Ukrainian, prayed and sang a Ukrainian Christmas carol.

Demjanjuk was a regular member of the Cleveland Cathedral Parish since the early 1950s.

Thomas Blatt, one of the rare survivors of Sobibor, said last month that Demjanjuk was fortunate to have raised a family and seen his grandchildren, while his own father had been gassed. Mr Blatt’s point was underscored by this week’s wrenching testimony from Dutch Jews who had survived in hiding, only to learn that their families had been brutally murdered.

One of them, Philip Jacobs of Amsterdam, 87, recalled how his parents and his first love, Ruth Eva Asch, were sent to Sobibor and gassed on July 23, 1943. Ruth had been 21 years old.

“I still have a guilt feeling that I survived. I felt I had left my loved ones alone,” he said, barely able to speak. “I lost my greatest love, and I have been missing my parents all my life.”

After the war, Philip Jacob married Tini Rottenberg. Their son, Michael Jacob, a professional photographer in Holland, said the current trial was “a dream come true” because his father had never before talked openly about his emotional suffering.

He added: “Now, so many things are coming together. He is able to say that he lost his love. It is a very big thing for a son to hear his father say so… in a place of truth, a courthouse.”

“It is very ironic,” Michael Jacob told the JC, “because my father’s life was destroyed by Germans, and now they are requiring him to testify. It’s an amazing thing. A lesson for life.”

Last updated: 1:16pm, December 24 2009