MUNICH - Alleged concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk blamed Germany yesterday for forcing thousands of people to work in Nazi extermination camps, during his first testimony at his trial in a Munich court.
The 90-year-old did not explicitly say whether he was one of those forced camp laborers, but did say that the accusations against him were "false," in a statement that was read out to the court.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk stands accused of having helped to kill 27,900 Jews at the Sobibor Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943.
Germany was to blame for the fact "that thousands were forced with violence and death threats to cooperate in perverse mass extermination camps, while hundreds who refused to do so were killed," Demjanjuk's statement read.
The defendant lay in his courtroom hospital bed and listened, motionless, as the defense lawyer read out his statement. At the end, Demjanjuk removed the dark glasses he has worn throughout the trial and wiped his eyes with a tissue.
Defense lawyer Ulrich Busch read out the document, signed by Demjanjuk, in which he said he had been forcibly deported to Germany after 30 years of persecution in Israel, the U.S. and Poland.
"I am thankful to the people who helped me, in a hopeless situation, to survive an ordeal which I experienced as torture," the statement read.
Demjanjuk said it was the fault of Germany that he lost his home, was taken prisoner of war and put to forced labor. He said it was only with God's help that he had survived.
It was an "unspeakable injustice that Germany wants to make me into a war criminal," Demjanjuk said.
Every minute of his 11 months in German custody felt like being a "prisoner of war," he said in the statement, which also referred to the seven and a half years Demjanjuk had spent in an Israeli prison, "of which five were on death row."
In the 1980s Demjanjuk was accused of being the infamous "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp, before being acquitted on the basis of mistaken identity. The evidence in the current case rests on the identity card of a guard at Sobibor named John Demjanjuk. The photo has been compared to seven pictures of the defendant, taken between 1941 and 1986, in which 26 key facial traits are deemed to overlap with the identity card.
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