The trial of John Demjanjuk in a German court is on again, after a summer break. Ninety-year-old Demjanjuk is accused of being a guard at the Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland during World War II. Although there are no specific charges against him, he is accused of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews who were gassed at Sobibor. Demjanjuk denies that he worked as a guard at Sobibor.
Here is a quote from a recent news article about the case:
Nazi hunters have taken keen interest in the Demjanjuk saga because it’s the first time German authorities have prosecuted such a low-ranking suspect on the premise that, even without evidence of a specific crime, simply working at a death camp was enough to be an accessory to murder.
German prosecutors have since opened investigations of two others on a similar basis, both men who were called as witnesses at the Demjanjuk trial — and a conviction could open the way to scores of more such cases.
At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and the American Military Tribunal proceedings, which took place after World War II, the charges against the accused were “participating in a common design.” Under the “common design” charges, German war criminals were convicted without being charged with committing specific crimes. Anyone who worked in a concentration camp, even a supply clerk, was guilty of a crime and there was no defense against the charge.
In 1948, the German courts took over the task of trying German war criminals, using the rules of the German courts, rather than the new rules made by the Allied victors. Now, the Demjanjuk trial has created a legal precedent which will open the way to put more former camp personnel on trial in German courts.