'Nazi guard' verdict due in Germany

12th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk waited to hear his fate Thursday as a court in Germany prepared to hand down a verdict at the end of his high-profile trial.

The court in Munich, southern Germany, said it would announce its decision at around 12:30 pm (1030 GMT) after an 18-month trial that is set to be one of the last of its kind.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, 91, is accused of helping to murder nearly 30,000 Jews while a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943. He denies the charges.

Prosecutors have called for a six-year jail sentence for Demjanjuk, who was deported to Germany in 2009 from the United States, where he lived for decades after World War II.

Demjanjuk was brought into the packed courtroom in a wheelchair on Friday, as usual, wearing a light-blue baseball cap, dark glasses and an army-like green coat which he took off after arriving.

Drinking a glass of water, he was moved to a bed in the courtroom and then appeared to be asleep. In the morning session on Friday, he was offered the chance for the last time to address the court, but he declined.

Demjanjuk has kept silent throughout the proceedings, sitting in a wheelchair or lying on a stretcher. His health was often a cause for concern during the trial, leading to frequent delays.

The former Red Army soldier was captured by German troops in 1942 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp before allegedly signing up to work as a death camp guard.

According to the prosecution, he worked for six months at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland in 1943, during which time some 27,900 Jewish men, women and children 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 deported 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 being the particularly sadistic "Ivan the Terrible" guard at Treblinka, another death camp.

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.

The defence insists it is a fake, adding that no witnesses could place him at the camp.

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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