Yahoo News | 01Dec2009 | David Rising
Demjanjuk accused of sharing Nazi
MUNICH – Rudolf Salomon Cortissos sobbed as he told a Munich court
about the letter his mother had written on May 17, 1943 -- four days
before she was gassed in the Nazis' Sobibor death camp with some 2,300
other Dutch Jews.
Cortissos testitified on Tuesday, the second day in a German court for
John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio autoworker being tried on charges of
being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews in the Sobibor camp.
Cortissos' mother Emmy was one of those killed.
Sitting only feet away from Demjanjuk, Cortissos said he found her
letter after his father died in 1959.
His mother had tossed it from the train that was taking her from
Holland before it crossed the German border, Cortissos testified. The
family had been in hiding, but she had been picked up in a sweep after
In neat handwriting, on a single piece of yellowed paper folded into
quarters, Cortissos' mother told the family she was being sent east to
work -- a lie propagated by the Nazis so people would be less likely to
"I promise you I will be tough and I will definitely survive," she
wrote in what turned out to be her final words to her family. She
signed off: "Hope to see you again soon. Bye bye. Many kisses."
The 89-year-old Demjanjuk was deported from the United States in May to
stand trial in Germany. He rejects the charges, saying he has been
mistaken for someone else.
Demjanjuk -- who suffers from several medical problems -- was wheeled
in to the Munich state court on a gurney Tuesday, slightly propped up
lying on his back. He arrived much the same way on Monday, the day the
A blanket covered his legs and his leather jacket was zipped up to his
neck. As Cortissos told his story, Demjanjuk kept a blue baseball cap
low over his face and had no visible reaction.
Cortissos is one of about 40 victims' relatives who have joined the
trial as co-plaintiffs, which is allowed under the German legal system.
He said he regretted that his testimony did not appear to affect
"I had hoped we would have had kind of an eye contact, but we didn't,"
the 70-year-old told The Associated Press. "So far, an old man -- no
emotional feelings, the way he is."
Cortissos was one of five co-plaintiffs who made statements Tuesday.
Prior to that, prosecutors accused Demjanjuk of playing an active role
in the Nazis' machinery of destruction and of being a willing follower
of Hitler's racist ideology as they read their indictment aloud.
Demjanjuk's defense attorney Ulrich Busch rejected those allegations.
"There is absolutely no evidence for that -- it is purely the
prosecutors' fantasy," Busch told The AP after the court session.
Demjanjuk showed little reaction as the 10-page indictment was read,
but put his left hand to his brow as prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz
detailed how Jews were stripped of their belongings and clothes, then
led naked into the gas chambers of Sobibor.
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk maintains he was a Soviet soldier captured
by the Germans, and spent most of the rest of the war in prison camps.
But Lutz told the five-judge panel he would seek to prove that
Demjanjuk volunteered to serve the Nazis once he had been captured, and
that he was a willing participant in the Holocaust.
Lutz told the court that Demjanjuk learned how to be a guard at the SS
training camp at Trawniki and was then posted to the Sobibor death camp
in Nazi-occupied Poland in March 1943.
"As a guard, he took part in all the various parts of the extermination
process after the deportation trains arrived," Lutz said, reading the
Lutz said Demjanjuk could have deserted, but chose to stay in the camp.
"He willingly participated in the killing of the Jews because he wanted
them dead for his own racist ideological reasons," Lutz said.
[W.Z. Once again "purely the
Presiding Judge Ralph Alt asked Demjanjuk if he wanted to respond to
the indictment but Busch said Demjanjuk would make no comment.
In a comment e-mailed from Ohio, Demjanjuk's son said the prosecution
had nothing to back up the allegations in the indictment.
"The prosecution is building a house of cards with a hurricane coming,"
John Demjanjuk Jr. said. "There is not a scintilla of evidence
indicating my father ever had any such ideology nor that he ever harmed
a single human being."
During a short break after the indictment was read, a doctor checked
Demjanjuk, who seemed more animated than during the proceedings. He
opened his eyes, talked with those around him and took a drink of
In the afternoon, however, after about an hour of the co-plaintiffs'
testimony, Demjanjuk complained of pain and the doctor recommended that
the trial adjourn for the day.
Demjanjuk's lawyers have previously said the prosecution has no
witnesses who remember him from Sobibor and that its other evidence is
weak. They suggest Demjanjuk is a victim of mistaken identity --
something that has happened before.
In the 1980s, Demjanjuk was extradited by the U.S. for trial in Israel
on charges that he was the notoriously brutal guard at Treblinka who
earned the moniker "Ivan the Terrible."
Demjanjuk was convicted in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against
humanity, and spent seven years in prison until Israel's Supreme Court
in 1993 overturned the conviction. It ruled that another person, not
Demjanjuk, was "Ivan the Terrible."
"An indictment is only as good as the evidence behind it, as we know
from Israeli trial," Demjanjuk Jr. said.
Busch filed a motion Tuesday for the case to be thrown out, arguing it
had been illegal to deport Demjanjuk from the U.S. instead of extradite
him, and that the Sobibor charges were addressed in the Israel trial so
the current process constitutes double jeopardy -- trying a person
twice for the same crime.
Alt said he would rule later on the motion, but has previously rejected
several similar pretrial motions by Busch.
The trial resumes Wednesday, and court sessions are scheduled through
If convicted, Demjanjuk faces a possible 15 years in prison -- although
he could be given credit in sentencing for some or all of the time he
spent behind bars in Israel.
Even if acquitted, Demjanjuk -- who has been stripped of his U.S.
citizenship -- likely will have to remain in Germany.