Playdoyer Manuel Bloch, in the case of John Demjanjuk, LG München II, 14 April 2011
Esteemed members of the court.
In the preface to his unforgettable book ‘If this is a man’, in which the Italian Jew Primo Levi described his experiences in Auschwitz, Levi mentions with some irony that none of the facts in his book are based on fiction.
This in some way appeals to what I often feel when thinking about the atrocities of the holocaust: these facts could not have happened in real live, are just too unbelievable to be true.
But unfortunately these crimes, and the role Mr Demjanjuk has played in them, are not fiction. They happened in real live, in 1943, in Sobibor.
The evidence in the case against Mr Demjanjuk is abundant and fits like the pieces of a puzzle.
The Dienstausweis, the transfer lists, the statements of Danilchenko and Nagorny, the documents from Majdanek and Flossenburg, Mr Demjanjuks own statement that he was a farmer in Sobibor, the absence of a credible alibi.
When all the pieces of this puzzle are put together the picture that emerges from this abundance of evidence is crystal clear: Mr Demjanjuk worked as a Trawniki Wachmann in destruction camp Sobibor, and should therefore be convicted for being an accessory to murder.
The defense has claimed that the statements of Danilchenko, who stated that he knew Demjanuk from Sobibor can not be relied upon. I refer to the article of historian Peter Black on Police Auxiliaries for Operation Reinhard, in which Black states the opposite (LO 29, pdf page 179):
“Having read through many of these statements (admittedly in translation), I find that, regardless of the methods the Soviet investigators may have used or the unsustainable conclusions that they sometimes drew, much of the information given by these defendants does indeed find corroboration in information contained in the captured German documentation and testimony taken from Trawniki men and German superiors in western Europe and the United States”.
The defense has claimed that Mr Demjanjuk should not be convicted because he found himself in a situation of ‘Befehlsnotstand’. Once again I refer to Peter Black, who states that 1000 out of 5082 Trawniki men deserted before the end of the war (LO 29, pdf page 183).
The famous Dutch historian Jacques Presser titled his study about Dutch Jewry in the Second World War: ‘Downfall, the persecution and extermination of Dutch Jewry 1940-1945’. The title of his book could not have been more appropriate.
Out of 140.00 Jews living in the Netherlands in 1940, 107.000 were deported to the Nazi concentration and destruction camps. Only 5.200 survived. Out of 34.313 Jews transported from the Netherlands to Sobibor, only 19 survived.
The term historical truth, ‘historische Wahrheit’, has often been used by the defense during this trial, or should I say misused.
This is the historical truth: that one third of the Jews deported from the Netherlands were killed in Sobibor by the Nazis, and that the Nazi’s were helped in their activities by Mr Demjanjuk during the time that he was there (during 15 of the 19 arriving transports).
This is the historical truth: that on 11 June 1943 Mr Demjanjuk helped to kill 1099 children between zero and sixteen years old, who arrived in Sobibor in the infamous children transport.
This is the historical truth: that twenty percent of his Trawniki colleagues could not stand their work any longer and decided to desert.
This is the historical truth: that Mr Demjanjuk, although his Ukrainian birth ground was only a few miles away, preferred to stay in Sobibor.
On 22 February 2011 Mr Demjanjuk made a statement which was read by his lawyer Mr Busch. Mr Demjanjuk stated that his trial was a political show trial.
In Hebrew this statement of Mr Demjanjuk could be qualified as a gutzpah, or (in Amsterdam) a gotspe.
In my definition a show trial represents torture, forced confessions, absence of a fair trial in the sense of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Demjanjuk can not seriously argue that the present trial against him comes close to the normal definition of a show trial.
It is Mr Demjanjuk who tries to hide the truth in this trial, not the prosecutor or the court. It is Mr Demjanjuk who chooses to remain silent about his whereabouts on 11 June 1943, the date of arrival of 1099 children in Sobibor.
Anyone claiming that the present trail bears similarities to a show trial is advised to watch the images of Volksgerichtshof judge Ronald Freisler.
Prior West German Nazi Crimes Trials
The defense has claimed repeatedly that the prior West German attitude towards Nazi crimes should lead to the conclusion that this case should never have been brought to court.
Prof. Nestler will address this matter further, let me present one example in order to show the absurdity of this position of the defense.
I refer to the Belzec trial in Munich in the period 1963-1965. In Belzec the Nazi’s killed at least 435.000 mainly Polish Jews. Only three survived . Out of eight suspects only one, Josef Oberhauser, was convicted for accessory to murder in 300.000 cases and sentenced to an imprisonment of four and a half years. The other suspects were not convicted because of the ‘Putativ Befehlnotstand’.
The acquittals, the mild sentences, the conviction for ‘Beihilfe’ instead of ‘Mittäterschaft’, the ‘Putativ Befehlsnotstand’, it’s all there. And the defense proposes, in the year of 2011, that this outdated jurisprudence should still be applicable.
In its verdict of 16 November 1995 the Bundesgerichtshof spoke about ‘ein folgenschweres Versagen Bundesdeutscher strafjustiz’, when discussing the matter of unlawful death penalties by Nazi judges who stayed in function after 1945, and did not have to account for their behavior after the war.
The same, ‘ein folgenschweres Versagen bundesdeutscher Strafjustiz’, applies to the outdated jurisprudence mentioned before.
When observing the important role of the Nebenkläger in this trial the following quote of Theodor Adorno comes to mind: a condition for all truth is to lend a voice to suffering, ‘Das Bedürfnis, Leiden beredt werden zu lassen, ist Bedingung aller Wahrheit’.
Twenty one Nebenkläger took part in the first Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt in 1963.
To my knowledge the present case represents the highest number of Nebenkläger in a postwar Nazi war crimes trial.
Without their presence this would have been a trial filled mainly with paper documents dated from an era long ago.
The often moving statements of the Nebenkläger in the courtroom showed that the consequences of the events in Sobibor in 1943 are still being felt today.
Their statements showed that Adorno was right: because of their statements the truth about Sobibor is now, at least in the Netherlands, much better known then before this trial.
I sincerely thank the court for its attention.
Primo Levi, Is dit een mens, Amsterdam 1990
Dr. J. Presser, Ondergang, De vervolging en verdelging van het Nederlandse Jodendom 1940-1945, Den Haag 1965
Dr. L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog 1939-1945, deel 8, Den Haag 1978, p. 673
Dr. J. Schelvis, Vernietigingskamp Sobibor, Amsterdam 2004, p. 252
Dieter Pohl, Die Trawniki-Männer im Vernichtungslager Belzec 1941-1943, LO 29, pdf page 66
Kuwalek, Der Ort des Terrors, Band 8, herausgegeben von W. Benz und B. Distel, München 2008, p. 359.
Adalbert Rückerl, NS Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse, Belzec Sobibor Treblinka Chelmno, München 1977, p. 83 and 84. Dick de Mildt, In the name of the people, Den Haag 1996, p. 276 and 277. Kuwalek, p. 360
5 StR 747/94
Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialektiek, Frankfurt am Main, 1988, p. 29
Irmtrud Wojak, Fritz Bauer 1903-1968 Eine Biographie, München 2009, p. 327