Kyiv Post | 11May2011 | Associated Press

Demjanjuk attorney: Client never served as guard (updated)

MUNICH (AP) -- John Demjanjuk's attorney in his final closing remarks Wednesday [11May2011] accused Germany of trying to minimize its own guilt for the Holocaust by prosecuting foreigners like his client, who is accused of being a Nazi death camp guard.

A verdict was scheduled for Thursday in the trial, which began 18 months ago and has spanned some 100 days in court.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who fought with the Soviet Red Army in World War II, is charged with 28,060 counts of accessory to murder. He is accused of agreeing to serve as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland after being captured by the Nazis in 1942.

Defense attorney Ulrich Busch said Demjanjuk, a 91-year-old retired Ohio autoworker, was a victim of the Nazis himself and had never served as a guard in any camp.
He said Demjanjuk was first injured by the Nazis in fighting, then faced near starvation as a prisoner of war.

Busch also noted that high-ranking Germans, such as the commander of the Trawniki SS camp where Demjanjuk allegedly trained, had been acquitted in the past by German courts.

"Should foreigners pay for the crimes of the Germans ... in order to acquit Germany of its responsibility alone for the Holocaust?" Busch asked the court in Munich.

Demjanjuk maintains that after he was captured he spent most of the rest of the war in German prisoner of war camps, but the prosecution says he agreed to serve the Nazis as a camp guard.

He lay in a bed during the hearing as he has for most of the trial, wearing dark sunglasses and showing no reaction to Busch's remarks.

The prosecution has called for his conviction and six years in prison, while Busch urged a full acquittal, his immediate release and unspecified damages.

Busch said that even though his client never served as a Nazi guard, other former POWs who agreed to work for the SS had no choice but to follow orders.

He told the court the defense had presented more than 30 statements from former prisoners who agreed to serve -- proving they faced death if they tried to escape guard duty.

Busch argued that even if the panel of judges hearing the case thought Demjanjuk was a guard at Sobibor, the evidence meant he had no alternative but to follow German orders.

He cited parts of several testimonies, including from a former Trawniki-trained guard called Sergey Priedakov, whom he quoted as telling interrogators that on his first day in a Nazi camp, they were given words of welcome by a German translator for the SS.

"He said anyone who doesn't want to serve should step forward," Busch quoted him as saying. "Then, he said anyone who steps forward will be shot."

Cornelius Nestler, a lawyer for families of Sobibor victims who joined the trial as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law, dismissed suggestions that it was unfair to prosecute low-ranking Nazi suspects now because Germany showed less interest in doing so decades ago.

"Our society today has its own proper standards," he said outside the courtroom. "That the standards of prosecution of Nazi criminals were different in the 50s and 60s is not a reason to repeat the mistake again."

But Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., accused German prosecutors of ignoring the facts.

"My dad is a survivor of the genocide famine in Ukraine, of the war fighting the Nazis, of the Nazi POW camps ... and now of Germany's attempt to finish the job left unfinished by Hitler's real henchmen," he said in an email to The Associated Press. "While some who refuse to accept the history of that period may take satisfaction from this event, nothing the Munich court can say will erase the true suffering he has endured to this day."