munich | An attorney failed in his bid this week to have John Demjanjuk’s trial on Nazi war crimes charges suspended, despite presenting judges with an Associated Press story that uncovered documents showing the FBI believed a key piece of evidence likely was fake.
A newly declassified FBI field office report from 1985 — which was kept secret for 25 years — said the Soviet Union “quite likely fabricated” a Nazi ID card showing Demjanjuk served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp.
Defense attorney Ulrich Busch gave AP’s story from April 12 to the judges as the trial resumed April 13, saying he needed more time to investigate whether more such material could be found. However, on April 14, the court rejected the request. AP’s story “does not offer any grounds for a suspension,” Judge Ralph Alt said. “The report does not bring forth any concrete aspects that have not already been analyzed as part of the examination of evidence.”
Busch had stated that he needed the trial to be postponed so that he could go to the United States himself to look through Demjanjuk material held at the National Archives in Maryland, where AP found the report.
The story shows “prosecutors did not introduce all the possibly exculpatory evidence from the United States here,” Busch told the court. Busch has repeatedly tried to have the trial suspended or otherwise delayed since it opened in Nov. 2009. A verdict is expected next month.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, a 90-year-old retired Ohio autoworker, is accused of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a guard at Sobibor. Demjanjuk denies the charges.
Claims that the card and other evidence against Demjanjuk are Soviet forgeries have repeatedly been made by Demjanjuk’s defense attorneys. But the FBI report provides the first known confirmation that U.S. investigators had similar doubts.
Prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz told the court, however, that at the time of the FBI report the identity card had not been turned over to Western investigators, but that it has subsequently been examined by several experts, all of whom have declared it to be genuine.
He said that after the AP story the U.S. Justice Department contacted him, saying that he had been shown the FBI report as part of two discs of scanned confidential documents that were made available at the U.S. Consulate in Munich.
He said, however, that he did not recall seeing the documents when he was at the consulate in June or July 2009 and that if he had, he must have considered them unimportant.
“And I don’t see any significance now,” he told the court.
But Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said at the very least the defense should have been shown the same confidential documents, and that the discovery raises the question of what other evidence could still be uncovered.
“This whole matter is a screaming siren to alert the courts in the U.S. and in Germany that the fraudulent prosecutor activity continues and the most important evidence is still hidden,” he said in an email.
Closing arguments were under way in the trial, which began in November 2009. A verdict is expected next month.
Martin Haas, a Dutch Jew whose mother was killed at Sobibor, is one of about 40 relatives of Holocaust victims or survivors who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs as is allowed under German law. Haas is a San Diego resident whose daughter, San Francisco resident Dr. Daphne Haas-Kogan, wrote an op-ed in j. last year about attending the trial with her father.
Haas told the court April 13 that he wanted to see Demjanjuk convicted and sentenced to the maximum prison term possible — 15 years.
In emotional closing remarks, he addressed Demjanjuk directly saying “I accuse you … above all of being an unrepentant coward, and an accomplice — a willing executioner — with the SS.”
Demjanjuk, lying in a hospital bed in the courtroom and wearing sunglasses, as he has done for most of the trial, did not react.
David Rising and Melissa Eddy of AP contributed to this report from Berlin.