'Nazi guard' threatens hunger strike

2011-02-22 15:19
Accused John Demjanjuk holds a plate with the figure "1627" as he arrives in a wheelchair for his trial in the courtroom in Munich. (Lukas Barth, AFP)

Accused John Demjanjuk holds a plate with the figure "1627" as he arrives in a wheelchair for his trial in the courtroom in Munich. (Lukas Barth, AFP)

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Munich - John Demjanjuk, a 90-year-old accused of helping to murder 27 900 Jews during his alleged time as a Nazi death camp guard, threatened on Tuesday to go on hunger strike, as his trial neared an end.

In a surprise development, his lawyer Ulrich Busch read out a rare statement from the accused, in which he dismissed the Munich court case as a "political show trial".

"There is only one path open to me: To show the world what a mockery of justice this trial is," said the statement.

"Unless the court does not accept the historical facts and does not... search for justice instead of carrying out a political show trial, I will begin a hunger strike within the next two weeks," Demjanjuk added.

He called on the court to admit evidence that the defence says will cast doubt on allegations he was a guard at the Nazi death camp Sobibor between March and September 1943.

Prosecutors were due on Tuesday to begin their closing arguments, but Busch entered a series of motions that delayed the trial.

Years-long fight

The accused entered the court in a wheelchair, wearing his now trademark sunglasses and carrying a small sign showing the figure "1627", the document number of the Soviet KGB files the defence says would clear him.

The court in the southern city of Munich could come to a verdict as early as March 22, although many observers expect a further delay. Demjanjuk, who denies the charges, faces 15 years behind bars if convicted.

Demjanjuk has been fighting to clear his name for decades.

He was previously found guilty in Israel of being "Ivan the Terrible", a particularly sadistic death camp guard at another Nazi camp, Treblinka, but released after the Israeli Supreme Court established they had the wrong man.

The Munich trial, which opened in November 2009 in a blaze of publicity, has meandered slowly to a conclusion, with several delays due to Demjanjuk's health and defence motions. There have been around 80 sessions since the case opened.

Demjanjuk's trial has focused around two central questions: Was he a guard at Sobibor in Nazi-occupied Poland and if so, could he have refused to assist the Nazi death machine?

Health played a role

As no one can identify Demjanjuk, experts have examined an identity card prosecutors say show he was posted to Sobibor but have failed to prove his signature is on the card or that the card is genuine, argues the defence.

The health of the accused has also played a major role in the trial. Demjanjuk's family say he suffers from a litany of illnesses and he appears in court either in a wheelchair or on a stretcher.

Court sessions have been limited to two periods of 90 minutes per day to prevent Demjanjuk getting too tired but even then, several court sessions have been postponed after he complained of headaches, pain or dizziness.

But a court doctor said his health was better now than when he was deported from the United States to Germany in 2009.

"He is stable and receives regular treatment. In the prison hospital, there are eight doctors at his disposal. He gets better treatment than he would do in a care home," said Albrecht Stein

He gets a blood transfusion on average once a month, added the doctor.

"He has always been very polite and correct with me. I have no complaints," he said.

In his statement, Demjanjuk accused Germany of blaming him for Holocaust.

"Now, as my life comes to an end, Germany - the country that murdered millions of innocent people cruelly and without mercy - has destroyed my dignity, my soul, my spirit and my life with a political show trial," he said.

Read more on:    germany  |  nazi crimes
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