JERUSALEM (Oct. 27)
The trial of suspected war criminal John Demjanjuk resumed here Monday after a two-month recess, with a determined effort by the defense to discredit a key document that could prove the 66-year-old, Ukrainian-born former automobile worker from Cleveland, Ohio is the brutal Treblinka death camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.”
The defense, in fact, was in shambles when the trial adjourned last August. Demjanjuk fired his American attorney, Mark O’Connor, and hired an entirely new defense team after a succession of Treblinka survivors identified him as “Ivan.”
Even more damaging was the testimony of experts that an SS identification card bearing a photograph of Demjanjuk at about age 22 was authentic. The ID card was issued to Ukrainians and other prisoners of war who volunteered for guard duty at Treblinka.
The prosecution obtained the original card from Soviet authorities. The defense insists it is a KGB forgery. The first defense witness Monday, Avraham Shifrin, an expert on the KGB, tried to convince the court of this. His testimony at points bordered on the bizarre.
Shifrin spoke at length about the so-called “supernatural” powers of the KGB. He said the Soviet secret service recruited witches, “even from Africa,” to control people. They also controlled peoples’ minds with cosmic rays, he charged.
He said he was convinced that the document incriminating Demjanjuk was forged and that once the trial is over and the suspect is convicted, the KGB will admit to the forgery, making Israel’s legal system a laughingstock throughout the world.
The defense contends the KGB wanted to incriminate Demjanjuk as a measure against Ukrainian nationalism. Shifrin said it forged thousands of documents accusing Russians and Ukrainians in collaboration with the Germans during World War II. He said the KGB regularly sends Christmas cards to famous people and when a polite thank-you note is returned, the signature is filed for future forgery.
The prosecution is not buying Shifrin’s testimony. State attorney Yona Blatman accused the witness of seeking a platform to dramatize his opposition to the Soviet regime and the KGB.
The court overruled a prosecution objection but warned defense attorney Yoram Sheftel to ask only relevant questions. “Remember, it’s not the Soviet system or the KGB that is on trial here,” presiding Judge Dov Levin said.