Kyiv Post |04Feb2010 | Associated Press

Investigator skeptical of new Demjanjuk claim

MUNICH (AP) — A top German investigator said Thursday he is skeptical about a new claim by a Sobibor survivor who says he remembers John Demjanjuk as a guard at the Nazi death camp.

Thomas Walther, who led the investigation that prompted Germany to prosecute Demjanjuk, said if survivor Alexej Weizen did remember Demjanjuk, it almost certainly would have come up before in the roughly 30 years the retired U.S. autoworker has faced investigations of his past.

Weizen had given statements previously to Soviet investigators and Demjanjuk had a high-profile trial in Israel in the 1980s.

"When now there is a trial and he suddenly says 'I know him' I'm very skeptical," Walther told The Associated Press. "Why did he not remember him when there was the trial in Israel, or when it was all over the press in the U.S.?"

Demjanjuk is being tried on accusations he was an accessory to the murders of 27,900 people while allegedly serving as a guard at Sobibor. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk rejects the charges, saying he was never a guard at any Nazi camp.

Walther spoke on the sidelines of the trial, which was canceled for a second day in a row after doctors reported that Demjanjuk, 89, was still experiencing health problems.

Walther, who has now retired from the special German prosecutors' office responsible for investigating Nazi-era crimes, had been scheduled to testify about the decision to pursue charges against Demjanjuk.

Weizen's claim to recognize Demjanjuk came in an interview broadcast Wednesday with Czech public radio from the Russian city of Ryazan. The 87-year-old, who was a Jewish Soviet soldier held at Sobibor from 1942-43, said he recognized Demjanjuk from an old picture published in a Russian newspaper.

"I remember him. I remember them all," he said. "He was a guard. I saw him to take a group of prisoners to the woods to work."

In Munich, trial prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz said he knew of Weizen and said it was the first time he was known to have spoken about Demjanjuk. He said it was "a matter for the court" whether Weizen should be called as a witness.

There are no known Sobibor survivors who can identify Demjanjuk from the camp. Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said Weizen's "11th hour claim to know him now is simply not credible."

"If there is anything of interest in Russia, it is relevant KGB files on the case that still remain locked and secret," the son said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Demjanjuk suffers from several medical problems but has been declared fit to face trial as long as court sessions are limited to two 90-minute sessions per day.

The trial was called off Wednesday after doctors reported that Demjanjuk was suffering from dangerously low hemoglobin levels. On Thursday they said he was still unable to appear, despite treatment.

Four sessions have now been canceled for health issues since Demjanjuk went on trial Nov. 30, 2010. The trial is scheduled to resume next Tuesday [09Feb2010].

Demjanjuk 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.

- Available at Kyiv Post.