New Zealand Herald | 15Apr2010 | Associated Press

Accused Nazi guard claims mistaken identity

MUNICH - Retired Ohio carworker John Demjanjuk told a German court yesterday that he was a victim of the Nazis, using his first major statement since his trial began to sharply criticise the country that started World War II for prosecuting him.

Demjanjuk, aged 90, is standing trial on 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder on allegations he was a guard at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland. He denies ever being at any camp, claiming he is the victim of mistaken identity.

"I am again and again an innocent victim of the Germans," he told the court in a statement read aloud by his lawyer.

He said as a prisoner of war the Nazis used him as a slave labourer, while killing millions of his fellow Ukrainians. Since his extradition from the United States last May, Demjanjuk has been in a prison near Munich, again "as a German prisoner of war", he said.

Demjanjuk's statement said that after the war he was unable to return to his homeland, and has now been taken from his family in the United States, calling the trial a "continuation of the injustice" done to him.

"Germany is responsible for the fact that I have lost for good my whole reason to live, my family, my happiness, any future and hope," he said.

Outside court, a lawyer representing the families of victims of the Holocaust who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under the German system, said the statement shows Demjanjuk is still showing no remorse and lacks understanding. "The defendant did not say a word about the Nazis' victims," lawyer Rolf Kleidermann said.

Demjanjuk could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted for his alleged activities training as a guard in the SS camp Trawniki, then serving at Sobibor.

The prosecution argues that after Demjanjuk, a Soviet Red Army soldier, was captured by the Germans in 1942 he volunteered to serve under the SS as a guard.

Demjanjuk denies ever having served as a guard, saying that he spent most of the rest of the war in Nazi POW camps before joining the so-called Vlasov Army of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others. That army was formed to fight with the Germans against the encroaching Soviets in the final months of the war.

A key piece of the prosecution's evidence in the trial against Demjanjuk is a Nazi ID card that allegedly shows he has served time in Sobibor. His defence, however, maintains the ID card is a fake.

- AP