Justice For Victims Of Former Nazi SS Guard John Demjanjuk?

MUNICH, Germany -- It has taken more than 65 years, but justice could at last be about to catch up with former SS guard John Demjanjuk over the murder of 27,900 death camp victims.

John Demjanjuk is accused of helping to kill 28,000 Jews in a death camp. Now at 89 he finally faces justice.

In what may be the final trial of a Nazi brute, the 89-year-old Ukrainian will step into a Munich court on Monday to answer charges that he took part in an extermination programme at Sobibor in Poland.

And he will come face to face with one of the lucky few who survived the camp where 250,000 people died.

Thomas Blatt, whose younger brother and parents were killed at Sobibor, has travelled from his home in America to look into the eyes of the man he is certain played no small part in their deaths.

When the 88-year-old steps into the court, the awful memories of how his family were wiped out will flood back.

The acrid smell of smoke billowing from the human incinerators, images of terrified children being forced at gunpoint to the gas chambers and the stench of despair.

Thomas said: "It is important to hear the testimony of those times, for young people to truly know the meaning of the hell on earth that was Sobibor. The stink of carbon monoxide, the naked little children going to be gassed, the flames that licked out of the furnace chimney as all that you knew and loved evaporated before your eyes.

"Demjanjuk is not an old man who deserves pity but who should come to terms with what he did."

Former Red Army soldier Demjanjuk will also have to face relatives of the victims who were disposed of in a fashion never believed possible by human beings.

Dutchman David van Huiden's family were murdered at Sobibor. When the SS arrived to drag his relatives to the camp on June 29, 1943, he escaped because he was walking his dog. Prosecutors say Demjanjuk was at Sobibor at the time.

David said: "My family couldn't defend itself.

Demjanjuk must have also known the value of a human life. If he's guilty, then he should receive the most severe possible punishment.

"I have been to Sobibor, I have read about it. People who were not utilised to help in the extermination programme had roughly one hour of life left to them after arrival."

Kurt Gutmann will also give testimony. He fled Germany as a boy, shortly before the outbreak of war. But he left behind his mother Jeanette and his brother Hans who were killed at Sobibor, while Demjanjuk was there.

The 82-year-old said: "I have faith in the German justice system. I am convinced they will find him guilty and make sure that he spends the remainder of his days in jail."

Kurt is one of 35 co-plaintiffs - the largest number ever assembled for a war crimes trial - who will be allowed to tell how their loved ones died at the camp.

Demjanjuk, who moved to the US after the war, was traced by Nazi hunters after they identified him as an SS guard in a photo of the Treblinka death camp. He was deported to Israel in 1986, found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. But he was cleared in 1993 after an appeal court ruled he was not the guard in question.

Holocaust expert Hans Mueller said any punishment for Demjanjuk is "immaterial".

But he added: "It is important for younger people to see what happened and to make sure it never happens again.

"The souls of the six million dead of the Nazi holocaust require, in fact, deserve, nothing less."

The evidence

The Trawniki ID card has been subjected to the most intensive and state-of-the-art tests to gauge its validity. It has passed all those forensic tests.

Not only that, the prosecutors have a whole "deck" of Trawniki cards, each one authentic, each one the same as Demjanjuk's except for the name and the photo. The flaws on Demjanjuk's cards are mirrored in each of the other ones.

A trawl through Nazi archives in the former East Germany shows several references to Demjanjuk having been trained for a while at the Flossenburg concentration camp after spending nearly four months in Sobibor in 1943.

Demjanjuk may have hoped that the fog of war would have covered his traces. But at least two transfer orders, as well as other significant documents, have been identified as referring to him.

Finally, the slip on his application to enter the US that made him put down the hell on earth of Poland's Sobibor concentration camp as the place where he came from.

From car plant to courtroom

Demjanjuk made his first mistake the minute he arrived in America in 1952 when he put Isaeli as his hometown on his immigration card.

It was a strange choice that would later come back to haunt him as it appeared on few maps and was barely even heard of.

With his family he settled in Ohio, working at a Ford car plant before it all went wrong.

In 1977, the Justice Department wanted to revoke his citizenship for lying on his immigration form.

Demjanjuk was linked by Holocaust survivors to the Treblinka death camp, where one million people were killed.

They claimed he was Ivan the Terrible - a guard who mutilated women and babies.

Demjanjuk denied any part in it, but was deported to Israel to stand trial for war crimes in 1986. It emerged that he had served in the Red Army. He was captured in May 1942 and agreed to work at a death camp in order to save his own life.

Prosecutors used a picture of him on an ID card from the Trawniki SS training camp and testimonies from former guards to prove he was Ivan.

And in 1988 he was sentenced to death by hanging.

But in 1993, five Israeli Supreme Court judges overturned the guilty verdict after former guards at Treblinka identified another man as Ivan.

It also emerged that material sent to Israel from the Soviet Union may have been fabricated by the KGB.

Yet clearing him then to this led to this new trial. The judges said that his ID card, and the testimony of other guards, placed him at Isaeli.

He returned to the US, where his citizenship was restored in 1998. But after the emergence of more new evidence, he was extradited to Germany this year.

Case for the defence

He and his family say he was a common man enlisted into the Red Army, captured by the Germans and who served the rest of the war in captivity.

They claim the ID card is a fake made by ex-KGB officers who wanted to punish people from independence-minded Ukraine after the war. The family say witnesses have lied and evidence against him is false.

He said "Isaeli" as his hometown because someone showed it to him on a map as he sailed to the States "and I didn't want to say I was from Ukraine in case they didn't let me in." But the name only appeared on SS maps marking it as a death camp.

Source: Mirror UK