Text size

MUNICH - Nazi death-camp guards could expect the firing squad or hanging if they fled their posts, a historian told the trial of alleged SS guard John "Ivan" Demjanjuk in Munich yesterday.

Munich University historian Dieter Pohl was giving evidence for a second day at the trial where Demjanjuk, 89, is accused of being an accessory to 27,900 murders at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

Pohl detailed how Nazi Germany recruited Soviet prisoners of war to wear the SS uniform and carry out killings during the Holocaust.

Asked what happened if they tried to stop the work and flee after seeing the death camps, Pohl said they could expect to be executed as an example.

Yet a significant number did run away, Pohl said, and not all were executed after being caught. Some were given given military prison terms or incarcerated in concentration camps instead, he explained.

Pohl described how an SS base at Trawniki in occupied Poland trained 4,000 to 5,000 ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and POWs to do SS work. They were dubbed the Trawniki men.

In one case, two Trawniki men and five inmates joined together to escape from Sobibor. The Nazis caught both Trawniki men and one inmate and executed them.

'I'm not Hitler'

As Pohl spoke, Demjanjuk lay on a stretcher with his mouth open and a trademark blue cap over his face.

Throughout the trial so far, the normally chatty former Ohio factory worker has not spoken, though he was animated on Tuesday outside the courtroom, quipping to a German television team, "What's up? I'm not Hitler!"

Pohl said the Trawniki men also helped in mass shootings of Jewish prisoners judged to be too sick to work or be transported by rail.

Prosecutors at the Demjanjuk trial have produced what they say is Demjanjuk's SS personnel record, but have no witnesses who remember seeing the Ukraine-born man at Sobibor.

Trawniki men volunteered to collaborate with the enemy, according to Pohl, after seeing their fellow Soviets die in the atrocious conditions and starvation of German-run POW camps.

"Not much is known about the behavior of individual Trawniki men," said Pohl, while adding that there were differences between those who identified entirely with the Nazis and others who quietly passed news or warnings to inmates.