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March 16, 2011

Will war criminal John Demjanjuk live long enough to get his “just deserts”?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 2:25 pm

Today I checked up on the progress of the trial of John Demjanjuk which has been ongoing since November 2009 and I learned that the trial has been delayed until May 2011 because Demjanjuk has been hospitialized.  Demjanjuk is being tried in a German court on charges of being an accessory to the murder of around 27,900 Jews, based on the testimony of two survivors that it was the Ukrainian guards who herded Jews into the gas chambers at the Sobibór death camp in German-occupied Poland.  Demjanjuk is Ukrainian but he denies that he ever worked at Sobibór.

Demjanjuk is now 90 years old and very ill; will he survive long enough to be convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his alleged crime? The survivors and the children of the survivors certainly hope so.  They want Demjanjuk to live long enough to be convicted so that he can die alone in prison without the love and support of his family.

Two survivors of Sobibór, Philip Bialowitz and Thomas Blatt, both testified for the prosecution in 2010, giving details about how the Sobibór death camp operated, but neither of them could identify Demjanjuk as being one of the Ukrainian guards. Blatt and Bialowitz were “slave laborers” who had been selected to live so that they could help the Germans as workers in the Sobibór camp.

John Demjanjuk, Jr., the son of the defendant, questioned the testimony of the witnesses, considering that they could not remember his father being in the camp. According to Demjanjuk, Jr., “Over the past 30 years of investigations regarding Sobibór, not one Jewish laborer who has testified, could identify my father.”

Philip Bialowitz has a web site where you can read a statement that he issued to the press on January 17, 2010 here.

Here is a quote from the press release:

Old age and ill health do not merit mercy in this trial. No mercy was shown to the innocent people who died at Sobibor. Young and old alike were murdered without mercy by the Nazis at Sobibor. If Mr. Demjanjuk was one of these war criminals, why should he receive mercy? And it should not matter that the crimes took place so long ago. Genocide still occurs today. Where it is not happening in one part of the world it is being planned in another part. The trial will send an important message to anyone who contemplates or carries out genocide: you will be held responsible for your actions. Some people say that the Trawniki men cannot be guilty because they were prisoners themselves. But prisoners have no right to commit murder. Maybe the Trawniki men felt that they and their families had a better chance to survive if they fought for Hitler instead of Stalin. And maybe this gave him them the right to join a German battle unit and to fight on a field of war against other soldiers. But they had no right to perform guard duty at a death camp. If they served at Sobibor, it was for the purpose of murdering thousands of innocent men, women and children. All of the Sobibor guards had a moral obligation to either lay down their weapons or resist in some way. If they did not, they should be treated as war criminals. I wish to see them punished appropriately for their actions.

Trawniki was a camp in Poland where guards were trained. Demjanjuk is allegedly one of the “Trawniki men.” Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union during World War II. Captured Soviet soldiers were given the option of changing sides and fighting for the Germans.  Many Ukrainian soldiers chose to join the Germans and they were trained to be guards at Sobibór and other death camps.

The prosecution must prove that Demjanjuk was in fact a guard at Sobibór and that he was given a choice of whether or not he wanted to be a guard. Bialowitz said this in his statement released to the press:  “Several guards once escorted me on a work detail outside the camp, and they had an opportunity to escape at this time but they did not try.”  So those guards did not try to escape, but does this prove that Demjanjuk had an opportunity to escape, assuming that he was actually a guard at Sobibór?

It is assumed that the guards knew that Sobibór was a death camp and that being a guard at a death camp was a crime.  Trainloads of Jews were brought to Sobibór for over a year; the Jews were ordered to undress and then walk to what they thought was a shower room.  These Jews were never seen again, so of course, they were gassed; what else could have happened to the estimated 250,000 Jews who were brought to Sobibór?

Here is another quote from Bialowitz’s web site:

Philip Bialowitz is one of eight living survivors of the infamous Nazi death camp, Sobibór, where an estimated 250,000 people perished between 1942 and 1943. There, Mr. Bialowitz joined a small group of Jewish prisoners who overpowered their captors and freed approximately 200 of the camp’s 600 slave laborers.

The “captors” were 30 German SS men who were the administrators in the Sobibór camp. According to Bialowitz, only 200 of the 600 slave laborers were freed during the revolt.  What happened to the other 400?  Did they decide that they were better off staying with the Germans, rather than escaping into a war zone where they would have no chance of getting a job to support themselves?

The following quote about the Sobibór uprising, led by Alexander Pechersky, on October 14, 1943 is from the Liver Pool Daily Post:

Pechersky successfully escaped into the woods, but about 80 prisoners were killed during the escape. 130 of the 550 prisoners at Sobibor at the time chose not to take part in the uprising remaining in the camp.11 SS Officers, and an unknown number of Camp Guards had been killed.

Of the escapees, 170 were later rounded up and executed, along with those that had remained in the camp and took no part in the uprising.

By this stage of the war the Allies still didn’t have the full picture of what Hitler’s concentration camps were about. Fearing the escapees would tell the story to the World, and as anxious to save his own neck as ever he was, within days of the escape Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp closed down, dismantled, and planted with trees to hide the evidence.

Pechersky survived the war, the undoubted ringleader and hero of the uprising was Portrayed by Rutger Hauer in the dramatised TV film version of the story ‘ Escape From Sobibor ‘ in 1987. He died in 1990.

Leon Feldhendler was shot and killed through the closed door of his flat in 1945.

53 Sobibor escapees survived the war.

In 1965, a German court put 11 of the surviving SS guards on trial; 6 of them were sentenced to prison, and one committed suicide during the trial; the others were acquitted. Franz Stangl, the Commandant of Sobibór and later the Commandant of Treblinka, escaped to South America, but was captured and brought back to Germany for trial.

Train station at Sobibór is on the right hand side

The deportation of Jews to Sobibór began in April 1942; during the first phase, which lasted from mid April to July 1942, around 100,000 Jews were gassed to death. Their bodies were buried in mass graves, then later dug up and burned on pyres. During the next phase, the bodies were burned immediately, according to Thomas Blatt, who survived because he was selected to be one of the workers who helped the Germans in the camp.

The Sobibór killing center was initially divided into three camps (Lager 1, Lager II and Lager III) but a fourth camp (Lager IV) was added later to store munitions captured from the Soviet Army. Lager I was where the Jewish workers in the camp lived. A moat on one side of this camp prevented their escape. Lager II was where the victims undressed; Jewish workers sorted the clothing in this camp. The barracks for the German SS administrators of the camp were located in the Vorlager.

From Lager II, an SS man escorted the victims through a path lined with tree branches to the gas chambers in Lager III. This path was called Himmelfahrtstraße by the Germans; in English it means Street to Heaven. Only the Ukrainian SS guards and the German SS officers were allowed in Lager III so the Jewish workers could not have known that the shower room was really a gas chamber, but they assumed that it was.

The Sobibór death camp was only 400 meters wide and 600 meters long; the entire area was enclosed by a barbed wire fence that was three meters high. On three sides of the camp was a mine field, intended to keep anyone from approaching the camp.

The former death camp is now a Memorial Site which few people ever visit because it is in such a remote area. The exact number of Jews who were murdered at Sobibór is unknown since the train records were either destroyed or confiscated by the Soviet Union. Estimates range from 170,000 to 250,000 deaths in the short time that Sobibór operated as a death camp.

Sobibór was one of the three Operation Reinhard camps; the other two were Treblinka and Belzec.  An estimated 1.7 million Jews were gassed at these three camps.

1 Comment

  1. The whole article is full of half truths and conjecture. Not a shred of real evidence anywhere. EG “By this stage of the war the Allies still didn’t have the full picture of what Hitler’s concentration camps were about.” The British had cracked the enigma code and knew exactly what was going on, certainly in the case of Auschwitz where a report was sent to Berlin every night. Sorry to disillusion you, but NOT ONE JEW WAS GASSED in WW2 !

    Comment by Joshua Fielden — March 17, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

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