'Nazi guard' Demjanjuk to face Holocaust survivors

John Demjanjuk was due to face Holocaust survivors in court on Tuesday on the second day of his Nazi war crimes trial, amid doubts on whether the 89-year-old is as ill as he makes out.

Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk is led out of the courtroom on a stretcher at the end of the first day of his trial at Munich's regional court.

Demjanjuk appeared on the first day of what is likely to be the last major Holocaust trial first in a wheelchair, moaning as he was wheeled out before being brought in for the second session laid out on a stretcher.

At the end of the day's proceedings in Munich, however, after most reporters had left the room, an AFP reporter saw Demjanjuk, wearing a baseball cap and a leather jacket, laughing and joking.

Other journalists and lawyers representing Holocaust survivors had previously also witnessed an apparently much more active Demjanjuk than he appeared in court. Profile: John Demjanjuk

Demjanjuk's family says he suffers from a litany of health complaints including leukaemia and that it is unlikely he will survive the trial.

But Christoph Nerl, a specialist in blood diseases, told the court that the defendant was suffering from a lesser complaint "which is definitely not leukaemia" and that Demjanjuk was "in a low-risk group."

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, was also unmoved, saying: "It's a pathetic attempt to appear more crippled than he is. He belongs in Hollywood."

"People like Demjanjuk don't deserve any sympathy because he had no sympathy for his victims," he said.

Demjanjuk is accused of helping to kill 27,900 people while a guard at the Sobibor death camp in 1943, one of a network of camps erected by Adolf Hitler's Germany in Eastern Europe with the sole purpose of mass extermination.

He denies the charges, which were due to be formally read out in court on Tuesday, but prosecutors say they have an SS identity card bearing his name and transfer orders.

If convicted, the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk will almost certainly spend the rest of his days behind bars. If not, he will face an uncertain future as he is stateless, having been stripped of his US citizenship.

Some of the 30 or so plaintiffs in the case, most of whom lost family members at Sobibor, were due to begin giving testimony on Tuesday.

There are no living eyewitnesses who saw Demjanjuk there, so prosecutors will rely heavily on written testimony by people now dead.

One of the co-plaintiffs was set to be Robert Cohen, a gaunt 83-year-old from Amsterdam whose parents and brother died at Sobibor, and who himself survived the Auschwitz death camp.

"If he (Demjanjuk) was there, he killed more than 100 people per day -- per day! That would be the worst crime ever," Cohen told reporters on Monday.

Demjanjuk says he was a Red Army soldier captured in 1942 by the Germans and then moved around various prisoner-of-war camps, but Israeli and US courts have already established he was at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk was sentenced to death in Israel in 1988 for being "Ivan the Terrible", a sadistic Nazi guard, but after five years on death row the conviction was overturned when Israel established this was another man.

Source: AFP

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