German Nazi guard trial postponed by illness

3rd December 2009, Comments 0 comments

John Demjanjuk is accused of helping to murder thousands of people while a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland during WWII.

Munich -- John Demjanjuk, 89, accused by Holocaust survivors of playing up his illness in his war crimes trial, has an infection and thus no hearing took place on Wednesday, the court said.

"At the start of the hearing, the presiding judge announced that according to doctors the defendant cannot be moved because of an infection, meaning no hearing can take place today," the Munich court said in a statement.

Wednesday's hearing was in any case scheduled to be the final day until the trial resumes on December 21. The court confirmed that it now will start again on that date.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk went on trial on Monday accused of helping to murder 27,900 people while a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland between March and September 1943.

On the first two days this week, Demjanjuk appeared very ill, moaning as he was rolled into the courtroom in a wheelchair and later on a stretcher, keeping his eyes closed for most of the time and apparently oblivious to proceedings.

The family of Demjanjuk, who denies ever being at Sobibor, says he suffers from leukaemia and other illnesses and that he will probably not survive the trial.

Many survivors of Sobibor and other Nazi death camps who came to Munich to appear as co-plaintiffs or witnesses in the trial were angered by his behaviour, saying he was exaggerating his health problems.

"I am sure he is faking his condition," said Thomas Blatt, an 82-year-old Sobibor survivor, originally from Germany, now living in Los Angeles.

Medical experts again told the court on Monday he was well enough to be tried and that he did not have leukaemia. Proceedings are already limited to two 90-minute sessions per day.

His poor health was one of the main arguments put forward in the months-long battle to prevent his deportation in May from the United States, where he moved to after the war, changing his name from Ivan and working in the car industry.

Demjanjuk admits that he was taken prisoner by the Germans as a Red Army soldier but he denies accusations that he was one of thousands on non-Germans who then volunteered to work for the Nazis.

While not admitting his client was ever in Trawniki, Demjanjuk's lawyer Ulrich Busch tried to turn the tables by portraying Soviet POWs forced to work for the Nazis as "victims just like the Jews."

Busch argued that the case is a farce because German SS members at Sobibor were acquitted in earlier trials.

Offered to chance to speak, his lawyer said Demjanjuk would exercise his right to remain silent.

The prosecution say they have Demjanjuk's SS identity card proving he was at the SS Trawniki training camp for guards and that he was transferred to Sobibor. His lawyers say the card is fake.

Ralf Isermann/AFP/Expatica

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