Kyiv Post | 13Jan2010 | Associated Press
Demjanjuk trial hears of Nazi
guards' use at camps
MUNICH (AP) — Former Soviet prisoners of war were trained by the Nazis
as guards and used regularly in the Germans' machinery of mass murder,
a historian testified Wednesday at the trial of John Demjanjuk.
The Ukrainian-born retired Ohio auto worker, once a Soviet Red Army
soldier, is accused of volunteering to serve as a guard for the SS and
training at the Nazi's Trawniki camp following his capture in 1942.
Demjanjuk is charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder for his
alleged activities as a guard at the Nazi's Sobibor death camp, also in
occupied Poland, in 1943.
The 89-year-old Demjanjuk rejects the charges, saying he never served
as a camp guard. The trial in Germany comes after 30 years of legal
action against Demjanjuk on three continents.
Dieter Pohl, an expert at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University,
described the history of the so-called "Trawniki men," many of them
Soviet POWs recruited by the Nazis, to the Munich state court on
Demjanjuk spent the proceedings lying on a bed and listening to an
interpreter. As during previous sessions, he wore a blue baseball cap
pulled low over his face.
The guards' involvement in the Nazis' mass murder of Jews started with
operations to clear Jewish ghettos in Poland in early 1942, Pohl said.
They later were used at death camps including Sobibor, where an
estimated 100 to 150 "Trawniki men" were stationed at a time, he said.
Witnesses have said the guards were "were active in all parts of the
camp, also in the gas chambers," Pohl said. Among other things, he said
witnesses said the guards helped unload incoming trains full of
prisoners and walked behind groups the Nazis were sending to the gas
While there are many accounts of violence by the guards, few of those
can be attributed to individuals, the historian said. He conceded that
documentation of the guards' use at Sobibor is "fragmentary."
There are no direct living witnesses to Demjanjuk's alleged activities
at Sobibor but prosecutors say, if he was a guard there, he was
involved in the Nazi machinery of destruction.
Demjanjuk denies ever serving as a guard, saying he spent much of the
war in Nazi POW camps before joining the so-called Vlasov Army of
anti-communist Soviet POWs, formed to fight alongside the Germans
against the Soviets in the final months of World War II.
His defense lawyers question the authenticity of a key piece of
evidence -- an SS identity card that prosecutors say features a photo of
a young Demjanjuk and that says he worked at Sobibor.
The "Trawniki men" declared when they signed up for service that they
had no Jewish ancestors, weren't members of communist organizations,
and committed themselves to serve for the duration of the war, Pohl
said. They were trained in escorting prisoners.
Still, Pohl noted that Germans tended to view them as "rather
unreliable personnel," with poor education and poor German. As well as
Ukrainians, they included former prisoners from the Baltic states and
elsewhere, and Soviet citizens of German background.
Demjanjuk has faced decades of legal issues.
He had his U.S. citizenship revoked in 1981 after the Justice
Department alleged he hid his past as the notorious Treblinka guard
"Ivan the Terrible." He was extradited to Israel, where he was found
guilty and sentenced to death in 1988, only to have the conviction
overturned five years later as a case of mistaken identity.
In the latest prosecution, Demjanjuk is accused of serving as a
"Wachmann" or guard, the lowest rank of the volunteers who were
subordinate to German SS men. It is the first time a conviction has
been sought against someone so low-ranking without proof of a specific