Historian at Demjanjuk trial questions validity of witness statementBy Andrea M. Jarach, AP
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Witness statement questioned at Demjanjuk trial
MUNICH — An expert witness called into question Tuesday the worth of a statement being used against John Demjanjuk, testifying that it came from a KGB interrogation in which the prisoner may have been physically abused.
Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio auto worker who was born in Ukraine and was once a Soviet Red Army soldier, is accused of agreeing to serve as a guard for the SS and training at the Nazis’ Trawniki camp following his capture in 1942.
Demjanjuk, 89, is charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder for his alleged activities as a guard at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland in 1943.
He denies having been at Sobibor or any other camp, but that has been called into question by statements from Ignat Danilchenko, a now-deceased Ukrainian who once served in the Soviet army and was exiled to Siberia after World War II for helping the Nazis.
In 1979, he told the Soviet KGB he served with Demjanjuk at Sobibor and that Demjanjuk “like all guards in the camp, participated in the mass killing of Jews.”
In testimony Tuesday, Dieter Pohl, an expert at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University, told the Munich state court that people considered collaborators by the KGB were routinely hit until they bled during interrogations.
“I can’t exclude that the KGB considered him a collaborator,” Pohl said of Danilchenko when pressed by the defense.
The U.S. Office of Special Investigations has also questioned the validity of Danilchenko’s statements, saying they contained “numerous factual errors.”
Demjanjuk spent the proceedings lying on a bed and listening to an interpreter, wearing dark sunglasses.
Though Demjanjuk maintains he was never at the Trawniki training camp, the defense has questioned whether any of the ex-Red Army soldiers there were truly volunteers, arguing that agreeing to serve the Germans was the only way to escape likely death themselves.
Pohl testified that the conditions for Soviet POWs were horrific, and that millions died of starvation and hunger while in captivity.
The defense has also argued that if Trawniki men tried to flee after learning they would be death camp guards, they would have been killed.
Pohl said that some Trawniki men did successfully escape, but conceded that if they had fled with their weapons and were recaptured, they faced certain execution.
The trial continues Wednesday with more testimony from Pohl.