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Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk to go on trial in Germany
Thu Nov 26, 2009 10:03am EST
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By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN (Reuters) - John Demjanjuk suffers from bouts of mental absence and will enter court in a wheelchair on Monday to fight charges of helping to kill 27,900 Jews in the Holocaust, the 89-year-old's lawyer said.
His victims' families insist he must face justice.
In what is set to be Germany's last big Nazi-era war crimes trial, all eyes will be on the Ukrainian-born former U.S. auto worker who fought in the Red Army before being captured by the Nazis and recruited as a concentration camp guard.
German state prosecutors believe Demjanjuk, who was top of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted war criminals, assisted in murders at Sobibor extermination camp in Poland where at least 250,000 Jews were murdered.
Demjanjuk, extradited in May from the United States after months of legal wrangling, denies involvement in the Holocaust.
"His physical condition alters by the day, even by the hour. He is an old man suffering from a range of ailments," Demjanjuk's lawyer, Guenther Maull, told Reuters.
"His mood swings, too. Sometimes you think he as an old man who is mentally absent but you don't know if it's a general condition or an illness," he said, adding Demjanjuk would attend the trial in a wheelchair and address the court in Ukrainian.
Despite protestations from his family, medics have deemed Demjanjuk fit for trial but hearings, in Munich, will be limited to two 90-minute sessions per day due to his frail condition.
The trial is due to last until May and Demjanjuk could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"It is an opportunity to demonstrate what inhuman behavior the Nazi regime executed and to respect my family's memory," said David van Huiden, a Dutch co-plaintiff whose parents and 18-year-old sister were gassed at Sobibor.
"He should get the heaviest available punishment according to German law," he told Reuters.
The Wiesenthal Center, which says Demjanjuk pushed men, women and children into gas chambers, says the trial sends a message that justice can be done even after decades.
"John Demjanjuk has lived a largely undisturbed life. He has been with his family, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, something his victims didn't have the chance to do," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the Center in Los Angeles. "Do we have compassion? No, not at all. He'll be in court where he belongs."
Many Germans, keen to draw a line under the Nazi past and forge a new role for their country, are resigned to the spectacle of the trial which has underscored Germany's patchy record on bringing its Nazi war criminals to justice. Continued...
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