Demjanjuk Nazi Case Punctuated by Delays, Fights With Judge After One Year

The Munich court trying 90-year-old John Demjanjuk on charges that he aided the Nazis in the murder of Jews during World War II, scheduled another four months of hearings just before the trial reached its one-year anniversary.

The trial, which started Nov. 30, 2009, under maximum security in courtroom A 101, has stopped drawing overflow crowds and continues with three hearings a week, limited to three hours a day because of Demjanjuk's health. After hearing from most witnesses in the case, the court is reviewing documents and repeated defense motions.

Demjanjuk, a former U.S. citizen who spent seven years in Israeli custody before being acquitted on charges he was a guard at the Treblinka extermination camp, was deported from the U.S. in May 2009. He was charged in Germany with being a guard aiding in the murder of 27,900 people at the Sobibor death camp in 1943 in then German-occupied Poland.

"It's a tormenting process for everybody here, believe me," Rolf Kleidermann, an attorney for Sobibor camp victims, said during a recess last week. "But I am glad for every day this trial continues, because it brings light to the past. I am glad we even came so far in this case."

After the Auschwitz trials during the 1960s in Frankfurt and the Majdanek case in the 1970s in Dusseldorf, Demjanjuk's may be the last major Holocaust case in Germany. Law professors have travelled with students to Munich to attend hearings and even justices at other German courts came to see the trial.

Hospital Bed

Demjanjuk, who follows hearings on a hospital bed, wearing a blue baseball cap and sunglasses, suffers from an incurable bone-marrow disease and back pain. A medical expert last week told the court that he's fit to attend two sessions of 90 minutes a day. Some proceedings have been canceled when the court-appointed physician said Demjanjuk wasn't fit.

Demjanjuk's son said in an e-mail last week that his father shouldn't be put through the trial, saying the family is denied weekly clinical reports and the doctor's only treatment is to "shoot my father with various drugs and call him fit."

The case was originally scheduled to last six months and the court has added months of additional hearings at least twice. The delays aren't surprising, said Stefan Schuenemann, a lawyer who represents two of the camps' victims registered as co-plaintiffs.

'Dragging On'

"This trial has been dragging on, but in a case like this, that's hard to avoid," said Schuenemann. "If you have to examine facts that are 67 years old, no direct witness alive and the defendant is keeping quiet, you couldn't really expect it to be much different."

The case has been highlighted by battles between the court and Ulrich Busch, Demjanjuk's attorney. Part of the defense strategy has been to repeatedly submit motions for documents from Russia, Israel and the U.S. as well as requests to remove the judges for bias. More than 20 Busch motions were rejected by the court last week alone.

During one hearing, associate judge Thomas Lenz yelled at Busch saying "You don't have to sneer at me, stop doing that!" Lenz now occasionally grins when Busch reiterates his arguments about the courts' right to hear the case.

"The relationship couldn't be worse and I definitely have my share in that, I frankly admit it," Busch said in an interview last week. "But I am only doing my job. Defense attorneys are allowed to get tough on occasions and a sovereign court would know how to take that."

Demjanjuk Statement

For the second time during the trial, Demjanjuk addressed the court last week and attacked the three professional judges on the bench, saying they suppressed evidence. Germany is also selectively persecuting him while failing to go after others accused of the same crimes, he said.

Demjanjuk, who was born in the Ukraine, referred to Russian army prisoners of war who were trained at the Trawniki camp to serve as guards. Samuel Kunz, who was charged in July with being a guard at the Belzec camp had been living in Germany for six decades. Prosecutors said they only learned about him during the Demjanjuk probe. Kunz, who was 89, died two weeks ago, and the case was closed.

Flaws in other cases shouldn't stop the prosecution, said Cornelius Nestler, a law professor who also represents relatives of Sobibor victims. He said the trial has been handled well, given the circumstances.

"That's just how criminal trials work and the judges apparently want to take great caution to introduce each and every document," he said. "The documents are key and put together they show a mosaic proving that Demjanjuk served at Sobibor."

Nestler and Schuenemann dispute Busch's claims that crucial prosecution documents, including a camp guard ID card and a list showing where Trawniki men were sent, were forged. They say that no one in the 1940s, when the papers were drafted, could have known that Demjanjuk would be tried six decades later.

"That scenario would only work if someone also placed them in various archives in different countries, from where they were now retrieved for this trial," Schuenemann said. "That's not really convincing."

[Source: By Karin Matussek, Bloomberg, London, 30Nov10]

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