'Nazi guard' court verdict expected in Germany

12th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The verdict in the trial of 91-year-old John Demjanjuk, charged in Germany with helping to murder nearly 30,000 Jews in an extermination camp during World War II, is expected on Thursday.

Defence lawyers ended four days of summing up on Wednesday when they called for the release of their client who pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial in this southern German city 18 months ago.

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who emigrated to the United States after the war, kept silent throughout the proceedings, sitting in a wheelchair or lying on a stretcher, his eyes shielded behind dark glasses and wearing a baseball cap.

His health was often a cause for concern during the trial, leading to frequent delays.

German prosecutors have demanded a six-year jail term for the former Red Army soldier who was captured by German troops in 1942 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp before allegedly signing up to work as a concentration camp guard.

According to the accusation, he worked for six months at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland in 1943, during which time 27,900 Jews were gassed there.

The prosecution has argued that if he worked as a camp guard, by definition, he is guilty of helping to kill all the Jews sent there at the time.

The high-profile trial, seen as one of the last to involve an alleged Nazi war criminal, has led to much soul-searching on the subject of delayed justice.

And the fact that the accused was a Ukrainian-born prisoner-of-war who now faces justice at the hands of the nation behind the Holocaust has also raised questions. He is in fact the first foreigner to be judged in Germany for Nazi war crimes.

His lawyer, Ulrich Busch, has described him as "a victim of Germany's justice system".

The accused, who says he remained a prisoner-of-war until the end of hostilities in 1945, later emigrated to the United States where he married, had children and worked as an auto mechanic.

He is now stateless, having been stripped of his US citizenship for lying about his past in his immigration application before being extradited to Germany where he has been in jail for the past two years.

Earlier he served nearly eight years in an Israeli prison, five of them on death row after being found guilty in the 1980s of serving as a guard in another death camp -- Treblinka -- where he went by the name "Ivan the Terrible".

The Israeli supreme court later overturned the verdict and ordered his release on the grounds that he had likely been wrongly identified.

Serge Klarsfeld, a French lawyer and Nazi hunter, has expressed frustration with the trial, saying it failed to provide new details about the case and could not prove Demjanjuk's direct participation in the killings.

"The witnesses are all dead and there are no documents because he was only a small fish," Klarsfeld told AFP. A guilty verdict "would open the door to accusations of unfair justice," he added.

Much of the case for the prosecution rides on whether an identity card -- number 1393 -- made out by the SS to one Ivan Demjanjuk who was trained with them to become a prison guard and who was sent to Sobibor, is genuine and belonged to the accused.

Defence lawyer Busch insists it is a fake, adding that no witnesses could place him at the camp.

Prosecutors explained that they were calling for a reduced prison sentence for the accused on the grounds of his age and because of time already served in jail both in Israel and in Germany.

They also accepted that while working as a guard he did not necessarily choose to serve in a death camp, and was only there in a junior capacity.

Cornelius Nestler, a lawyer for the co-plaintiffs, relatives of those killed at Sobibor, said Germany was duty-bound to prosecute Demjanjuk even though the crimes were committed years ago.

"The judicial system and society do not have the right to ignore the facts, saying we just don't want to look at this any more, as used to be the case in the 1950s and 1960s when much of society and much of the justice system felt this way," he told the court.

© 2011 AFP

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