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Demjanjuk Says Trial Over Nazi-Camp Role Is ‘Torture’

John Demjanjuk arrives in a wheelchair for the beginning of another day of his trial at Munich's regional court on Feb. 2, 2010. Photographer: Michaela Rehle/AFP/Getty Images
John Demjanjuk arrives in a wheelchair for the beginning of another day of his trial at Munich's regional court on Feb. 2, 2010. Photographer: Michaela Rehle/AFP/Getty Images

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- John Demjanjuk, on trial for aiding in the murder of 27,900 Jews during World War II, told a Munich court he is an “innocent victim” and blamed the U.S. and Jewish groups for the charges against him.

In his first statement to the court, Demjanjuk, 90, said that he has been falsely prosecuted for 30 years in the U.S., Israel and Germany. Prosecutors say Demjanjuk worked as a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943.

“It’s an injustice that Germany tries to make me, a prisoner of war, into a war criminal to try to deviate from its own war crimes,” Demjanjuk said in the statement read to the court today by his lawyer, Ulrich Busch. “This trial is torture for me.”

Demjanjuk, a Ukraine native and retired autoworker, lived near Cleveland until he was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and extradited to Israel in 1986. He was tried there on charges he was “Ivan the Terrible,” the guard who tortured Jews while herding them into the Treblinka concentration camp gas chambers.

His death sentence and conviction in the case were overturned in 1993 by Israel’s Supreme Court, which said there was reasonable doubt that he served at Treblinka. Demjanjuk returned to the U.S., regaining his citizenship. In 2002, a U.S. court revoked it again over his alleged role at Sobibor. He was extradited to Germany last year to stand trial in Munich.

Jewish ‘Circles’

Demjanjuk also attacked the U.S. and Jewish groups, blaming the U.S. Office of Special Investigation and the “circles behind it, namely the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center” for his prosecutions.

“Now, at the end of my life, I’m put on trial for the 30th or 40th time on the same allegation. I don’t have the strength to resist any more,” Demjanjuk said in the statement. “I’m defenseless in this justice war waged against me for 30 years, which the Germans” took over.

The Germans captured Demjanjuk, who was fighting in the Russian Army, in 1942, according to the indictment in the Munich case. He was later trained as a guard at Trawniki and served at Sobibor from March to September 1943, the prosecution claims. During that period, 27,900 Jews, mostly deported from the Netherlands, were killed in the camp, according to prosecutors.

‘Outrageous’

“It’s outrageous to insinuate that this trial’s aim was to blur Germany’s responsibility for Nazi crimes,” said Rolf Kleidermann, a lawyer representing relatives of Sobibor victims in the trial. “It’s the first time the accused addresses the court, but he has not one word to say about the suffering of the Jews who were the real victims here.”

Following Demjanjuk’s statement, the court heard additional evidence in the case.

Reinhardt Altmann from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office testified that a picture on a camp guard identity card is that of Demjanjuk as a young man. The picture was compared with several other photos of Demjanjuk over his lifetime, Altmann said.

The testimony contrasts with claims by Busch earlier in the trial that the ID card was forged, presumably by the Russian secret service.

Busch asked the court today to retrieve more files from the U.S., Israel and Italy, saying that prosecutors failed to include evidence that may clear Demjanjuk.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karin Matussek in Munich via kmatussek@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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