JERUSALEM (Sep. 30)
The State of Israel formally indicted Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk Monday on four counts of war crimes, alleging his direct involvement in the killing of nearly 900,000 Jews at the Treblinka death camp near Warsaw during World War II.
The voluminous charge sheet, submitted in Jerusalem District Court, accuses Demjanjuk of personally torturing and maiming camp inmates as they were herded into the gas chambers and of operating the machinery that flooded the chambers with deadly gas.
Demjanjuk, a former resident of Cleveland, Ohio, who was extradited to Israel last February after being stripped of his U.S. citizenship, will go on trial early next year, probably in January. He has been charged with crimes against the Jewish people; crimes against humanity; crimes against persecuted people; and war crimes. Conviction on any of the counts carries the death penalty.
The State’s case hinges on positive identification of Demjanjuk as the Treblinka guard known to inmates as “Ivan the Terrible” for his brutality.
The charge sheet lists 53 witnesses for the prosecution, 25 of them Israelis, three Poles, 11 Germans, one Belgian and 13 Americans. Four of the witnesses are deceased but their depositions are admissable in court under special provisions of the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law of 1950.
Demjanjuk, 66, claims he is a victim of mistaken identity, possibly inspired by the Soviet Union. That is the line his American attorney, Mark O’Connor, is expected to take in defense. O’Connor, who has been granted permission to plead before an Israeli court, will be assisted by a court-appointed Israeli attorney.
SPECIFIC CHARGES LISTED
The charge sheet alleges that Demjanjuk, when a Soviet prisoner of war, volunteered to join Nazi death squads and swore allegiance to the SS. He was posted at Treblinka where, the charge sheet says, he would stand at the entrance to the gas chambers and stab doomed inmates with a sword or iron stave, gouging out pieces of their flesh as they entered the chamber.
The charge sheet also states, “Whenever an SS man or auxiliary (like Demjanjuk) wounded a prisoner on his face, that prisoner was marked for execution immediately. Knowing this, the accused used to slice off noses or ears…condemning them to death.”
Demjanjuk is also accused of participating enthusiastically in especially horrendous episodes of torture in the wake of attempted escapes and systematically bludgeoning his prisoners with a club or lashing them with a whip.