Demjanjuk Holocaust Trial Begins in Munich

John Demjanjuk, 89, is once again on trial for Holocaust war crimes – this time not in Jerusalem or Cleveland, but in Munich.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 10:34

Israel news photo: Jewish Virtual Library

John Demjanjuk, 89, a long-time United States citizen who is presently stateless, is once again on trial for Holocaust war crimes – this time not in Jerusalem or Cleveland, but in Munich.

This will be the third Holocaust trial for Demjanjuk. The first time was in Jerusalem in 1986-88, when he was accused of having been Ivan Marchenko, known as Ivan the Terrible. Marchenko ran the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp, where well over 800,000 Jews were murdered in the course of approximately 10 months.

He was originally convicted of all charges, but five years later, in 1993, the Supreme Court reversed the verdict after new evidence was produced raising doubt that Demjanjuk was really Marchenko. He was returned to his long-time home in Cleveland, Ohio, where his American citizenship was restored – but not for long.

In 2001, Demjanjuk was again put on trial – this time for having served as a guard at Sobibor and other Nazi concentration camps in Poland and Germany. He was convicted, and in 2004, his U.S. citizenship was once again revoked. A year later, he was ordered deported. After further appeals and other delays, and after Germany announced it would try him for his responsibility in the deaths of some 29,000 prisoners at the Sobibor death camp, Demjanjuk was flown to Germany this past May.

In Sobibor, in the Lublin region of Nazi-occupied Poland, close to 300,000 Jews were gassed to death. Sobibor and Treblinka were the sites of the two successful Jewish prisoner uprisings in concentration camps. Both took place in 1943. Some 300 Sobibor prisoners escaped, out of 600, as did 600 out of 1,500 in Treblinka.

The current trial of the elderly Demjanjuk is expected to last several months; because of his physical condition, only two 90-minute sessions are scheduled per day. If convicted, he is expected to be sentenced to several years in prison. Germany has no death sentence.

The trial is likely to be Germany's last major trial from the Nazi era. Some 200 journalists from around the world are on hand to cover the story. Evidence against Demjanjuk includes documents such as an identity card, and about 20 witnesses, showing that he was at Sobibor in 1943.