An historian described gruesome details of Nazi gas chambers Wednesday as the trial of John Demjanjuk resumed after the court rejected defense appeals to postpone it. Hearings had been suspended since December 22.
If convicted for being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 people, the German courts can sentence the 89-year-old Demjanjuk, known as “Ivan the Terrible,” for up to 15 years in prison. He previously was convicted in Israel and sentenced to death, but judges later overturned the verdict after accepting his claim that the case involved mistaken identity.
Demjanjuk’s trial in Munich resumed after the court rejected his attorneys’ appeals for a postponement so they could conduct further examinations of files and documents in the case. He is charged with being a Nazi guard at the death camp at Sobibor, where prosecutors say that up to 250,000 Jews may have died.
Historian Dieter Pohl of Munich University is to describe in his testimony how captured Soviet army soldiers worked in Nazi concentration camps. He has testified on the Nazis' systematic extermination program, including the gas chambers. Pohl has told the court that Sobibor was an extermination camp whose purpose was to exterminate Jews, and that it never became a work camp. He showed images of the camp’s gas chambers and mine fields.
Demjanjuk made no physical or verbal reactions during the testimony, and he remained in a bed after he was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair. His attorneys and family members claim he is no condition to stand trial, but eyewitnesses at the beginning of the trial said he moved about freely after a hearing in which he was presented as being bedridden.
Demjanjuk claims he did not work at the death camp, where he is charged with having worked as a guard after being captured from the Soviet Red Army by the Nazis. Prosecuting attorneys have produced an identity card showing that he worked at Sobibor in 1943.
The German court also rejected defense lawyers’ claims that members of families who were murdered at the death camp should not be allowed to be co-plaintiffs, despite the court’s earlier approval. German law allows people who are affected by a crime to be presented as co-plaintiffs.