Demjanjuk trial witness describes deportation

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2009 11:27 AM

A survivor of the Sobibor death camp testified that Ukrainian guards in Nazi-occupied Poland were worse than the Nazis' infamous paramilitary SS as he recalled his experiences Tuesday at the trial of John Demjanjuk.

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, a retired auto worker who was deported from the U.S. in May, is charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder for his alleged activities as a guard at Sobibor.

Jules Schelvis, an 88-year-old from the Netherlands, recalled being deported to Sobibor in 1943 along with his family. He told the Munich state court that he lost 18 relatives _ including his wife, Rachel _ at the camp in occupied Poland.

Schelvis, one of dozens of victims' relatives who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law, recounted his 72-hour journey from the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork in a cramped freight car, with no food and little water or fresh air.

"We were crammed in like herrings in a barrel," Schelvis testified. He said the people on board knew little about what was happening and thought they were being deported for labor.

"We just knew that we were traveling to the east, that was all," he said.

At Sobibor, Schelvis recalled, the new arrivals were made to leave all their belongings in a hut before an SS man separated the men from the women, who "disappeared from view."

Another SS man selected strong young men _ including Schelvis' brother-in-law _ and the witness said he also was allowed to join the group after giving an assurance that he was healthy and spoke German.

The group was taken on a long drive and march from Sobibor to Dorohucza, where they were put to work digging up peat to serve as fuel, Schelvis said.

Schelvis said he first came across Ukrainian guards at Dorohucza. "We knew that the Ukrainian guards were worse than the SS," he told the court.

He said that, near Lublin, he saw two Ukrainian guards pass by with two Jewish prisoners.

"We heard shots, and they came back without the two men and with their clothes," he said. "Then we knew that they were worse than the others."

Schelvis said he passed through a series of camps in occupied eastern Europe, among them Auschwitz, before being liberated from a camp in Vaihingen, in western Germany, at the end of the war.

The paramilitary SS, short for "Schutzstaffel" or "Protective Squadron," ran concentration camps and carried out mass killings.

The 89-year-old Demjanjuk _ who suffers from several medical problems _ was wheeled in to the Munich state court on a stretcher Tuesday and lay on a bed with his eyes shut throughout the proceedings.

There are no direct living witnesses to Demjanjuk's alleged activities at Sobibor. 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 a guard for the SS after his capture by the Germans in 1942.

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

Defense lawyer Ulrich Busch has called for the case against Demjanjuk to be thrown out.

After several defense motions were rejected Monday, Busch unsuccessfully called Tuesday for an immediate halt to proceedings. He accused the trial judges of bias and said his client "has become the victim of an international judicial plot."

The trial resumes on Jan. 12 and sessions are scheduled through May. If convicted, Demjanjuk could face a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.