Prosecutors confident as Demjanjuk trial set to begin

berlin  |  Whether in a wheelchair or on his own two feet, John Demjanjuk will enter Munich District Court on Monday, Nov. 30, to stand trial for World War II–era crimes against humanity.

He is charged as an accessory to the murder of 29,700 Jews at the Sobibor death camp in Poland. If convicted, he faces several years in jail — reportedly a maximum of seven.

The trial, which some are billing as the last major Nazi war crimes case, could take a couple of years.

It will be the second war crimes trial for Demjanjuk, 89, who was born in Ukraine and immigrated to the United States after the war.

In 1988, Israeli courts convicted Demjanjuk and sentenced him to death for murder and savagery at the Treblinka death camp. But the sentence was overturned in 1993 when the Israeli Supreme Court determined there was insufficient evidence that Demjanjuk was the so-called guard named “Ivan the Terrible,” and he was released.

Today, prosecutors say they have all the proof they need that Demjanjuk actively participated in the mass murder of Jews in the gas chambers of Sobibor in 1943.

“The totality of evidence is overwhelming,” said Barbara Stockinger, spokeswoman for the state prosecutor in Munich.

An SS identification card places Demjanjuk in the death camp, and his number shows up on many documents related to Sobibor, prosecutors say.

The prosecution alleges that Demjanjuk, after being captured by the Germans in 1942, received training at the Trawniki SS facility in occupied Poland, which produced guards for several death camps.

Demjanjuk insists he merely served in the Soviet army and was captured by Germany in 1942.

Demjanjuk, an autoworker who lived in suburban Cleveland, eventually was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and, after exhausting his appeals, was deported to Germany in May. Germany has jurisdiction to try Demjanjuk because 1,900 of his alleged victims were German Jews, and because Demjanjuk stayed in a Munich DP camp after the war.

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.