Defense Documents Expert is Severely Shaken at Demjanjuk Trial
Menu JTA Search

Defense Documents Expert is Severely Shaken at Demjanjuk Trial

Download PDF for this date

The credibility of the defense documents expert who claims that John Demjanjuk’s alleged SS identification card is a forgery has been severely shaken.

Just two weeks ago defense counsel Yoram Sheftel confidently predicted at the Jerusalem war crimes trial that his experts’ testimony would “pulverize” the prosecution’s claim that the ID was authentic.

But after three days of cross-examination, American documents expert Edna Robertson of Panama City, Florida, seemed shaky and battered and trying to defend the vestiges of her expertise.

Gently leading Robertson to trip herself up, prosecuting counsel Michael Shaked chipped away at her professional standing. He referred to Robertson’s 1984 opinion given at Demjanjuk’s hearings in the U.S. and asked how, as a “self respecting expert,” she could base her opinion on a photo of the ID card.


Robertson insisted that was only a “provisional and qualified” opinion. “I never give an opinion based on copies,” she said firmly. Where-upon Shaked referred to an unrelated case in the U.S. where Robertson had been called for her opinion regarding signature authentication. There she had given an opinion based only on photos.

“I should have been more careful,” she admitted. “You acted against the principles of your profession,” Shaked pressed on. “Yes,” Robertson had to concede, “In this one example.”

The witness became agitated several times, her intermittent dry cough growing stronger. Judge Dov Levin, concerned for her condition, broke for recess early on one occasion, and another time gave her a few moments outside the court.


Wednesday’s questioning centered around Robertson’s opinion that the photo on the ID card was not the card’s original picture.

The defense claim that the ID card, allegedly Demjanjuk’s identity document from the Trawniki Nazi training camp, is in fact a Russian forgery.

According to Robertson, the official swastika stamp over the photo was in fact a clever forgery comprising two halves of two different stamps, one half on the photo and the second half on the document.

She based this on an infra-red analysis of the ink in the stamps which, she said, showed a “luminescence” only in the portion of the stamp on the photo. That was the result of the use of two separate types of ink and therefore, she concluded, it was two separate stamps.


At this point shaked suggested that maybe the luminescence occurred because of the quality of the paper under the stamp rather than because of the quality of the ink. Maybe shiny photographic paper causes luminescence, whereas absorbent regular paper does not.

“Professional literature would have to be rewritten” if that was the case, Robertson replied. Had she tested Demjanjuk’s driver’s license, a document of unquestioned authenticity, with a photo and an official stamp over it, for the same effect? Shaked asked. She had not.

But apparently a prosecution witness, U.S. documents expert Dr. Tony Cantu, had. He had found the same luminescent effect on the driver’s license, concluding that photographic paper and not necessarily ink, causes luminescence.


Robertson was further abashed during an embarrassing scene when Shaked asked her to display her professional knowledge in court through the use of the Israel police video spectral scanner equipment. She had used the same equipment at the police laboratory to test the ID card. Robertson seemed to fumble and show unfamiliarity with the equipment, and found it difficult to obtain the luminescent effect that she had mentioned.

Shaked asked why she had not used a far more sophisticated piece of equipment, an electron microscope in her examination, especially regarding places in the document where lines crossed. She said she does not own one and only uses such expensive equipment when specifically requested by her client.

But she did not even request it when doing her checks on the document at the police headquarters even though she admitted that she was given any equipment she requested, Shaked persisted. And then to her further embarrassment, Shaked quoted a forensic textbook which stated that use of the electron microscope “was the only way to examine” crossed lines.

Meanwhile, the Soviet government has supplied Israel with three more ID cards from the Nazi training center at Trawniki. These were submitted as evidence by the prosecution Tuesday. The cards were conveyed to Israel by oil magnate Armand Hammer — as was the original Trawniki card which is allegedly Demjanjuk’s own. That card has been the subject of extensive examination during the trial.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund