Cleveland Jewish News | 21Aug2009 | Marilyn H. Karfeld

Ex-Nazi found guilty by court that will try John Demjanjuk

Earlier this month, a German court sentenced former Nazi officer Josef Scheungraber to life in prison for ordering the murder of 10 Italian civilians in World War II. The June 1944 slaughter was revenge for the killing of two German soldiers by Italian partisans.

[W.Z. It is my understanding that, according to the rules of war, it is not considered "illegal" to execute innocent civilians in reprisal for the killing of military/occupying personnel in occupied territory. Presumably, this is to discourage civilian support for partisan attacks on occupying personnel. This had particularly horrendous implications for Ukraine during WWII. The Soviet "Red" partisans (who were bitter enemies of the UPA, which fought for Ukrainian independence) deliberately killed German occupying personnel so as to elicit "reprisal killings" of innocent Ukrainians by the Germans in the ratio from 20:1 or even 50:1.]

A survivor of the massacre testified at the Munich trial, even though he could not identify who ordered the mass murder. To prove their case, prosecutors used historical documents and circumstantial evidence to place Scheungraber, now 90, at the scene, the AP reported.

The Scheungraber verdict shows convictions are possible despite a defendant’s old age and inconsistent eyewitness testimony, say legal experts also following the upcoming murder trial of John Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian native who immigrated to Cleveland after the war, was deported to Munich in May. Last month, German prosecutors indicted him on 27,900 counts of accessory-to-murder while a Nazi guard at Sobibor death camp in spring and summer 1943. German documents, such as an SS service pass and transfer roster, show Demjanjuk worked at Sobibor.

The judge in Demjanjuk’s trial, whose date has not been set, has approved eight joint plaintiffs, whose relatives were killed at Sobibor from April to July 1943, and prosecutors have lined up 22 witnesses against Demjanjuk.
Last week, Demjanjuk’s attorney Ulrich Busch asked the Munich state court to close the case, citing German legal precedent. Other German courts have ruled that similar defendants who risked their lives if they did not follow orders could not be held criminally responsible, Busch argued.

The prosecution is expected to challenge that argument, saying Demjanjuk could have escaped from the concentration camps, as did other foreigners conscripted into Nazi service.