Investigator: Evidence shows Demjanjuk at Sobibor

Defense attorney: The paperwork "doesn't matter at all...It doesn't show that he was in the death camp."

February 3, 2010 08:29
3 minute read.
Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk.

Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk.. (photo credit: AP)

Evidence shows that John Demjanjuk was a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland, and everyone who was there was either a victim or a cog in the Nazi machinery of death, a German investigator testified Tuesday.

Thomas Walther, who led the investigation that prompted Germany to prosecute Demjanjuk, told the Munich state court that "the Sobibor death camp was a hermetically sealed area in which only two groups of people had entry" — Nazi guards and their victims.

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"Every member of the first group, with very high probability, took part in the murder of the second group," he testified.

Demjanjuk, 89, a retired Ohio autoworker, is accused of serving as a low-level camp guard and charged as an accessory to 27,900 murders. He rejects the charges, saying he never served at the Sobibor camp or any other Nazi camp.

But Walther cited postwar paperwork in which Demjanjuk noted "Sobibor, Poland" as a place of residence.

Defense attorney Ulrich Busch said Demjanjuk didn't live in the town, but even if he had it wouldn't mean that he had anything to do with the neighboring camp. The paperwork "doesn't matter at all," Busch said. "It doesn't show that he was in the death camp."

Still, other evidence links Demjanjuk to the camp, including an SS identity card with a photo that says he worked at Sobibor, Walther said. The defense has disputed the card's authenticity, however, and a witness statement submitted by Walther raised questions about its validity.

Walther also cited the conclusions drawn in a US appeals court ruling from 2006 when Demjanjuk lost a bid to stop his deportation. It found a previous court had made clear the evidence showed he "served willingly as an armed guard" at Sobibor.Demjanjuk is being tried in Munich because he lived in the area briefly after the war. He emigrated to the US in 1952 and gained citizenship in 1958.

Demjanjuk claims to be a victim of mistaken identity, saying he was a Red Army conscript from Ukraine who was captured in Crimea in 1942 and held prisoner until joining the Vlasov Army. That force of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others was formed to fight with the Germans against the Soviets in the final months of the war.

Demjanjuk's Vlasov Army commander, Walter Dubovec, told American investigators two decades ago that he knew nothing of Demjanjuk's past before they first met in 1945, according to a document provided by Walther.

Dubovec also said he knew Demjanjuk well and doubted the picture on the SS card is his.

"I am not convinced that this is the same person," Dubovec said, according to testimony read by presiding Judge Ralph Alt in German. "There were thousands of soldiers in the Soviet army with faces like this."

Demjanjuk lay in a bed and showed no reaction throughout the session, a baseball hat pulled down over his face as at previous hearings. On Tuesday, he also wore sunglasses.

The postwar paperwork submitted by Walther included a 1948 application for assistance from a refugee organization, in which Demjanjuk said that from April 1937 to January 1943 he worked as a driver for a company in Sobibor.

A 1950 report from the US Commission for Displaced People also noted that Demjanjuk told them he was an "independent farmer" in Sobibor from 1936 to 1943.

Walther said Demjanjuk has told investigators in the past that he named Sobibor on postwar forms to try and obscure the fact he was Ukrainian. He wanted to avoid deportation to Ukraine, where he would have faced likely prosecution by the Soviets for serving in the Vlasov Army.

Walther said Demjanjuk first said he was given the name "Sobibor" by a consular official, then in another statement told investigators that he had picked it randomly from a map.

The investigator, who has now retired from the special German prosecutors' office responsible for investigating Nazi-era crimes, said the name Sobibor — a tiny town in eastern Poland — only shows up on the most detailed maps of the time. He said he had serious doubts that Demjanjuk picked it randomly.

In the 1980s, Demjanjuk stood trial in Israel, accused of being the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp. He was convicted, sentenced to death — then freed when an Israeli court found that he was a victim of mistaken identity.

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