John Demjanjuk, accused Sobibor death camp guard, on trial in Munich, Germany
Mr Guttman, a Jewish Berliner who survived because he escaped to Britain before the Holocaust, has spent his life haunted by the deaths of his family.
Jews usually died within 30 minutes of arriving in a sealed train carriage; guards whipped and beat them as they dragged them out of the train and marched them to the doors of the gas chambers, then pushed them in.
At last, near the end of his life, Mr Guttman is sure that he will have a chance to stand in court and see justice done to at least one of Hitler's servants.
"He and his cohorts killed my family," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "I despise the man because he was a willing accomplice to murder and later dreamt up all kinds of excuses about what he did. I want to look in those eyes and tell him what he took from me."
John Demjanjuk, 89, a Ukrainian-born car worker from Cleveland, Ohio, goes on trial tomorrow in Munich accused of assisting in the murder of 27,900 people at Sobibor in Poland during 1943.
The trial will almost certainly be the last time Nazi war crimes are scrutinised in court; it will probably be a final chance for a generation of young Germans to be confronted with the horrors of the 1940s, which seems like ancient history to many of them.
It also presents difficult moral questions about holding such a hearing so long after the alleged crimes. The defendant is a man of 89 in poor health. The worst he is likely to be accused of is being a very small cog in a murderous machine. He has already been cleared once of committing grave war crimes near the end of the war at a different camp, Treblinka.
Mr Demjanjuk was sentenced to death by hanging by an Israeli court in 1988 after a famous trial, held more than a decade after he was first named as a suspect. He was released when appeal judges ruled that it was not certain, after all, that he was the guard known as Ivan the Terrible.
Mr Demjanjuk has always insisted that during the war he was simply an unlucky captive of the Germans. He admitted that he changed sides to fight communism in Nazi uniform, in part to get out of terrible prisoner of war camps where his comrades died in droves.
But he has always denied the accusation levelled at him by war crimes investigators that he is lying to cover a vicious past as a Wachmann, or death camp guard.
In the new trial he is charged with volunteering to be trained by the SS as a guard, and participating in mass murder at Sobibor between July and October 1943.
In effect, he is accused of being one of the thuggish men who beat and pushed the Jews to their deaths at the behest of Nazi masters.
After the war Mr Demjanjuk emigrated to the United States, worked in a car factory, raised a family, and went to church. He lived like any ordinary American. His main interest in recent years has been tending his vegetable garden.
Mr Demjanjuk's family has insisted that their father has been hounded by war crimes investigators from the US Justice Department. They also single out the Simon Wiesenthal Center, set up by a Holocaust survivor to investigate Nazi crimes, saying the centre - which put him high on its most wanted list - has pursued the case for publicity.
Far from being a monster, say Mr Demjanjuk's family, he is an old man with leukaemia whose last wish is to die at home.
Mr Guttman has no sympathy with this. Now aged 82, the retired translator got out of Germany on a kindertransport to Britain, where he spent the war years in Scotland. He last saw his mother Jeanette, and his elder brother Hans, on the platform of Mühlheim railway station on 23 June, 1939.
He said: "I remember my mother kissing me, wrapping me in her arms and then saying: 'Look after yourself, my son, and please try to get us over there.'"
Mr Guttman was only allowed to leave because he was under 16. The Nazis wouldn't let his 21-year-old brother go.
Both his mother and brother were killed at Sobibor, two of 250,000 people to die there. They included Jews from the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, and from elsewhere in occupied Europe.
About 33,000 Dutch Jews were gassed in Sobibor and the trial is the subject of intense interest in the Netherlands.
In Germany, interest so far has been lukewarm. Lottie Seewald, 55, a former health carer worker, said: "Why don't they spend the money that this trial will cost on hospitals, or apprenticeships for youngsters without jobs? Honestly, people are fed up with having it stuck to them all the time about the Nazis. They're gone from history."
Wolfgang Benz, director of Berlin's Centre for Research on Anti-Semitism said: "It doesn't matter if this old guy is sick or if he is nearly 90 years old.
"The issue of dealing with our past will never end, and Demjanjuk is the case for today, even if some people think of him as being only a small cog."
Despite his minor role in the Holocaust, war crimes investigators are convinced that it is correct to put the 89-year-old on trial, and they believe that this time they have a strong case and will get a conviction.
The Office of Special Investigations, based in Washington, has doggedly pursued the case since 1993, when Mr Demjanjuk returned to the United States from Israel. After years of trying it finally persuaded German authorities to prosecute him and he was extradited from America earlier this year.
A central piece of evidence is an SS identity card which the prosecution will claim proves that Mr Demjanjuk was at the camp in 1943.
His defence insists it is a forgery, used to frame him in a 1970s KGB plot when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet empire, and supporters of its independence were targeted.
The evidence of 23 witnesses will be presented - most in the form of written testimony, as nearly all of them are now dead. But there will be living witnesses. Several hundred Jews from the workforce managed to escape from Sobibor in a bloody uprising, and survivors will describe conditions there. But none of them are expected to be able to identify Mr Demjanjuk.
Twenty-two Dutch Jews, including survivors of Sobibor, will attend the trial and testify as "co-plaintiffs". Most will speak about the suffering their families endured because of the Holocaust, Mr Guttman among them.
A former member of the SS, known as Samuel K, is also expected to appear, but prosecutors have yet to reveal exactly what evidence he will give. Thomas Nagorny, a 92-year-old Ukrainian, is expected to identify Mr Demjanjuk as a former Nazi henchman.
The prosecution will seek to prove that Mr Demjanjuk was trained at a special camp for guards called Trawniki. There have been claims that Mr Demjanjuk has a small blood-red tattoo in his armpit, of the sort the SS gave to men who worked for them.
One of the most intriguing – and potentially damning - pieces of evidence is that when Mr Demjanjuk filled in immigration forms on his arrival in the United States in 1952, he gave "Sobibor" as his hometown. Yet before the war it had been an unimportant Polish village.
Dr Ulrich Busch, the German lawyer who will defend Mr Demjanjuk, insists however that there is little real evidence against his client. "There are no diaries, there is nobody who can place him there, there are no living witnesses who can do so," he said. "There is a service card, which we say is a fake.
"He has never said that he was at Trawniki or that he was an SS man. He has talked about being a POW until he joined the Vlasov Army of Russians who fought for the Germans against Bolshevism at the end of the war."
Dr Busch said that his client would not speak in his defence during the trial, which is his right in German law and equivalent to a "not guilty" plea.
Mr Demjanjuk, who has been held in the hospital wing of a prison since arriving in Germany, does not fear the trial, his lawyer said. But he does feel depressed about his future. Stripped of his US citizenship, stateless, and unable to return home even if he is acquitted, he knows he cannot return to his family. What will happen to him in the case of a not guilty plea is unclear. He will probably have to remain in Germany.
His family plan to remain in the United States for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last until next May at least.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph from his home near Cleveland, his son John Demanjuk junior said: "They are torturing him at the age of 89 and he will not live long enough to complete the legal process. It took us seven years to gain acquittal in Israel. According to the German medical doctors, he now has perhaps a year to live.
"Overwhelming historical evidence proves that Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans, particularly those who were prisoners of the Nazis, should not be held responsible for the Holocaust. Ukrainians were victims of the Nazis and now Germany is trying to rewrite history in the falsified name of justice."
Rabbi Marvin Hier, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, brushed aside criticisms of the prosecution. He said: "His defenders will say this is an old man being tortured. To use this as an escape hatch for Nazi war criminals is unbelievable. In the Third Reich he killed people for a living. John Demjanjuk doesn't deserve any mercy. He has lived to a ripe old age and enjoyed seeing his children grow up. Did any of his victims enjoy this?"
[Source: Telegraph, Berlin, 29Nov09]
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