After 30 years of delays, Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk has been brought to trial in Munich, Germany, on charges of assisting in the killing of almost 30,000 people in Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp during World War II. The trial began Monday, December 1, 2009.
Demjanjuk, known as “Ivan the Terrible” because he was identified as that notorious prison guard in the Treblinka death camp. However, during a trial in Israel, Demjanjuk’s identification as Ivan was questioned and eventually dismissed. Ironically, during that trial it was alleged that Demjanjuk had actually been a guard at Sobibor (a charge he denies) and new charges were formulated.
Demjanjuk was extradited to Germany in May of 2009 to face trial on the new charges; his US citizenship was stripped years ago, after it was discovered that he had lied to American immigration authorities about his ties to Nazi Germany. His family claims that he is very ill and may die within months. His defense claims that he was not at Sobibor at all; prosecutors say that they have “overwhelming” evidence to the contrary. Demjanjuk, born in the Ukraine, served in the Soviet army in 1941 but was captured by the Germans in May of 1942. He says he spent the rest of the war as a POW; prosecutors claim that he took a deal offered by the Germans to work for them as a guard in “special camps” rather than serve out his time as an ordinary prisoner.
Analysts indicate that the main obstacle the prosecution faces is demonstrating that Demjanjuk participated in identifiable crimes. Simple presence at the site of a Nazi atrocity has not previously been found to be sufficient evidence that a crime was committed. There are no living witnesses from Sobibor, other than Demjanjuk himself.
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Bob Hayes is the senior partner at DocRocket, a web content and writing services company. He is a freelance business consultant with particular expertise in software, Internet business development, and operational efficiency. In addition he maintains a personal blog at Bob Hayes Online.