Expert at Demjanjuk trial: POWs-turned Nazi guards did not know what they were signing up for

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Demjanjuk trial hears how Nazi guards recruited

MUNICH — Soviet prisoners of war used by the Nazis as death camp guards weren’t told what they were agreeing to do when they signed up to serve the Germans, an expert testified Wednesday in the trial of John Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born retired Ohio auto worker who 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.

The 89-year-old 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.

While Demjanjuk denies having served in any Nazi camp, the defense has also argued that Soviet POWs who were recruited to serve the Germans did so only to escape death themselves, and that once in the service of the SS they could not flee.

“After they murdered millions of Ukrainian POWs like my father by intentionally starving them, the Germans are now trying to shamefully absolve themselves of their Holocaust atrocities by blaming those they victimized,” Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., told the AP in an e-mailed statement.

In testimony Wednesday, Dieter Pohl, an expert at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University, said that when the SS recruited Red Army prisoners the men were simply told that they were needed for “German service” or as “auxiliaries of the SS.”

They were assured that they would not be used to fight against their Soviet countrymen, he said.

Pohl told the Munich state court that that those who were caught trying later to flee were commonly executed.

“In the case of desertion, the risk was enormous,” Pohl told the court.

Still, he did say that a group of such guards managed to flee the Treblinka death camp and form their own partisan group to fight against the Germans, and that others were known to have escaped as well.

As in previous sessions, Demjanjuk lay on a hospital bed in the courtroom wearing sunglasses and did not react to the testimony.

The trial continues Thursday with more testimony from Pohl.

Associated Press Writer David Rising contributed to this report from Berlin

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