CBS News | 11Nov2010 | Associated Press
Demjanjuk Defense: Soviets
Lawyer Argues Suspected
Nazi Death Camp Guards Were Tortured for Confessions
John Demjanjuk's lawyer argued Thursday that transcripts of
interrogations by Soviet authorities of former Nazi death camp guards
shouldn't be used as evidence because the suspects could have been
tortured for their confessions.
The argument appeared aimed at excluding statements by a now-deceased
former Sobibor guard who told Soviet interrogators he remembered
Demjanjuk from the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, 90, a retired Ohio autoworker, is standing
trial on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for allegedly having been
a guard at Sobibor. He denies
ever having been a guard anywhere.
Demjanjuk served in the Red Army at the start of the war and is alleged
to have then agreed to serve the Nazis after his capture.
In statements read to the court on Wednesday and Thursday, two former
Soviet soldiers who had served as guards told Russian authorities years
after the war that the confessions they had made in the immediate
postwar period had been made under torture.
Defense attorney Ulrich Busch said their comments raise the possibility
that all statements made to Soviet authorities were made under duress.
"These documents should not be permitted to be used as evidence," Busch
told the court.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard summaries of statements from a
1949 interrogation in which ex-guard Ignat Danilchenko said he
remembered Demjanjuk from the death camp.
"He wore a German Waffen SS uniform, he carried German weapons, he took
part in the guarding of Jewish civilians, and he brought them to the
gas chamber," Danilchenko said, according to the summary.
Trial prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz previously noted, however, that
Danilchenko in later years had made no mention himself of being
Still, doubt has been cast on the Danilchenko statements in the past,
with U.S. investigators saying they contain numerous factual errors.
And in March, German historian Dieter Pohl, who was called as an expert
witness, said the statements should be treated with the "highest
caution" because they came from a Soviet interrogation. He testified
that it appeared Danilchenko was telling the interrogators what they
wanted to hear.
Still, Presiding Judge Ralph Alt has ordered that the statements of
former guards be read into the record, saying that the panel of judges
hearing the case could then decide on their credibility.
He sounded a note of skepticism Thursday after hearing several
statements from former guards who told interrogators that, though they
were officially death camp guards, they had worked in the kitchen and
had not participated in the Holocaust.
"Sometimes I get the impression that all of them were stepping on each
other's feet in the kitchens while the Jews were throwing themselves
into the gas chambers," Alt said.