German court rejects bid to bar deceased ex-guard’s testimony from Demjanjuk trial

By Andrea M. Jarach, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Court rejects bid to bar testimony on Demjanjuk

MUNICH — The German court trying John Demjanjuk heard statements made to Soviet authorities by a now-deceased guard at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp who apparently said he remembered Demjanjuk serving there.

The 90-year-old Demjanjuk is standing trial on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he was a guard at the camp in occupied Poland. He denies ever having been a guard anywhere.

Defense lawyer Ulrich Busch argued that the court shouldn’t read summaries of statements by Sobibor guard Ignat Danilchenko, who allegedly told Soviet officials in the 1970s that he remembered Demjanjuk from Sobibor.

Busch said the statements may have been extracted through torture and noted that Danilchenko was not alive to be cross examined.

Trial judges rejected his motions, saying they would read the evidence into the record before deciding on its credibility.

German historian Dieter Pohl, who testified earlier in the Demjanjuk trial, urged the court to treat the Danilchenko statements with the “highest caution” because of their source. He testified that it appeared Danilchenko was telling the interrogators what they wanted to hear.

In the statements read to the Munich state court Tuesday, Danilchenko — a captured Red Army soldier — said that he and other Ukrainians taken in 1942 to the Trawniki training camp were told that they would be collaborating with the German army.

Danilchenko told his Soviet interrogators that he were instructed how to use weapons and was sent several times to patrol at a nearby camp for Jewish prisoners, according to the statements. He said he was later sent to Sobibor and to Flossenbuerg, a concentration camp in Germany.

Judges plan to continue reading the statements at the next trial session on Oct. 5. Demjanjuk wasn’t mentioned in the sections read Tuesday.

However, transcripts already available show he told Soviet officials in 1979 that he served with Demjanjuk at Sobibor and that Demjanjuk “like all guards in the camp, participated in the mass killing of Jews.”

U.S. investigators have in the past questioned the validity of Danilchenko’s statements, saying that they contain numerous factual errors.

The prosecution argues that after the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, a Soviet Red Army soldier, was captured by the Germans in 1942 he agreed to serve under the SS as a guard.

Demjanjuk claims he spent most of the rest of the war in Nazi camps for prisoners of war before joining the so-called Vlasov Army of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others. That army was formed to fight with the Germans against the encroaching Soviets in the final months of the war.

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