Witnesses in Demjanjuk trial tell of parents, sweethearts killed in Sobibor death camp

By Geir Moulson, AP
Monday, December 21, 2009

Demjanjuk trial witnesses tell of loved ones lost

MUNICH — A Dutch man recalled losing his parents and girlfriend at the Sobibor death camp, while a man whose pregnant mother was killed said Monday he was testifying at John Demjanjuk’s trial on behalf of his unborn brother or sister.

The 89-year-old retired U.S. auto worker is charged as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews for his alleged activities as a guard at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

The Munich state court rejected a series of defense motions calling for a halt to the trial and Demjanjuk’s release from custody. It spent the day hearing testimony from relatives who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs.

Philip Jacobs, 87, recalled in a breaking voice that his parents and “my beloved girlfriend, Ruth,” a German native then aged 21, were transported in July 1943 from the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork to Sobibor, where they perished.

“I lost the love of my life and I have missed my parents very much,” Jacobs, an Amsterdam resident, said as he sat a few feet from Demjanjuk. “I often torment myself with thinking about why I remained alive, why I left my family alone.”

“The events of that time mark every day of my life,” said Jacobs, who testified that he escaped the occupied Netherlands in 1941 with money from his father and made his way to England, where he later served in the Royal Air Force.

Demjanjuk sat in a wheelchair and kept his eyes shut during the testimony. He wore a blue baseball cap and had a blanket over his lap, and was brought in on a bed for Monday’s afternoon session after complaining of back pain.

Robert Cohen, himself an Auschwitz survivor, testified that his brother and parents “went to Sobibor and I never saw them again.” Cohen, who was still at Westerbork at that stage, said that “I wanted to be deported too.”

“We were very naive then,” Cohen said. “I thought I would see my family again.”

Cohen, 83, said he spent 27 months at various camps, and recalled at one point being transported in open railway cars for 10 days without being given any food.

Marco de Groot, 70, said he escaped being rounded up along with his mother in the Netherlands at age 3 because he was playing at a neighbor’s house.

“My mother was heavily pregnant, so I’m here for my unborn brother or sister too,” he told the court. Like others who testified, he was kept hidden by various families during the war.

German law allows for victims of a crime or their relatives to join a trial as co-plaintiffs — offering them the opportunity to review evidence, file motions and question witnesses. However, cases are always led by public prosecutors.

Defense lawyer Ulrich Busch said the co-plaintiffs’ testimony illustrated the suffering brought on them and their families by Nazi Germany but did not offer information that would help illuminate the case against Demjanjuk, as all were far from the scene.

There are no direct living witnesses to Demjanjuk’s alleged activities at Sobibor but prosecutors argue that, if he was a guard at the death camp, that means he was involved in the Nazi machinery of destruction.

The prosecution argues that Demjanjuk, a Soviet Red Army soldier, volunteered to serve as an SS guard after his capture by the Germans in 1942.

Demjanjuk denies ever having served as a guard, saying he spent much of the war in Nazi POW camps before joining the so-called Vlasov Army of anti-communist Soviet POWs. That army was formed to fight alongside the Germans against the Soviets in the war’s final months.

Busch has called for the case against Demjanjuk, who was deported from the U.S. in May, to be thrown out.

Among other arguments, he has said that Polish investigators in 2007, working from the same evidence, determined there was not enough proof to proceed to trial and so European Union rules should prevent the German investigation from advancing.

The five-judge panel rejected his motions. The trial resumes Tuesday.

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