A curious coincidence: on the day that the victims’ families made their closing statements, the case was moved to the ostentatious court at the Justizpalast. This building symbolically stands for the Nazi’s system of justice between 1933 and 1945.
By Rob Fransman (a personal account from the from the victim’s group)
Without exception, none of the group slept well the previous night. With good reason: after a year-and-a-half of holding their tongues, they were given their final chance to tell the world what had happened to their parents at Sobibor, and how that affected their lives.
They were also nervous as to whether the session would even take place today. Was Demjanjuk healthy enough? Several times the defendant did not show up because he had a temperature.
Bomb from CNN
But at exactly 10 AM Demjanjuk entered the room in his wheelchair and was put in his usual bed. As usual, Demjanjuk’s lawyer Ulrich Busch demanded to speak first. He pointed to CNN’s explosive news that morning: the FBI in 1985 expressed doubt whether the Dienstausweis 1393, one of the prosecutor’s most important pieces of evidence, was genuine. Busch proceeded to demand the immediate release of his client.
The prosecutor dismissed Busch’s demand. The CNN report revealed nothing new. Of course the FBI expressed doubt about the document which was handed to them by the Russian authorities. It is the FBI’s task to question such information. Consequently, the evidence was put under extra scrutiny: dozens of times, by many experts. All of them, including the FBI experts, unanimously ascertained that there were no forgeries in the document.
The first to come forward was lawyer Michael Koch, who read out the words of the recently deceased Rob Wurms. Once more we heard about Rob’s sisters, Kaatje and Veronica, who never returned from Sobibor.
Then the 90-year-old historian Jules Schelvis described the fateful 30 minutes he spent at Sobibor, which would change his life forever. He, along with 80 others, were selected and allowed to live for the time being. Schelvis had to perform slave labour for the Nazis.
Schelvis described watching Trawnikis (prisoners who volunteered their services to the Nazis) separated his family with whips, and carried them off. He saw his wife Rachel, 20, and her family for the last time. Jules Schelvis said it would be enough for him for the court to find Demjanjuk guilty. In honour of his humanist parents, Schelvis demanded no jail sentence for the defendant.
Not as gentle
Some of the group demanded the maximum sentence of 15 years, while others asked that the court set an appropriate sentence. All had a different story to tell. The common denominator in the narrative was the outrage and bewilderment at Demjanjuk’s conduct: until today he has insulted the victims by remaining silent.
I had this to say in court: “All these months I was in this room with John Iwan Demjanjuk. He must have noticed me as one of the regulars in the courtroom. Not once has he made the effort to speak to us, or even to look us in the eye. Even if he does not admit guilt, he could have expressed his sympathies for the millions of victims and their descendants. That was possible, and he had the chance to do this on any day during this long trial. He chose to be silent. I see this as an insult. An insult to me and my co-prosecutors, but particularly a posthumous insult against the memory of the victims.”
When I spoke those words, I looked Demjanjuk straight in the eye. He was four metres away from me. But he did not react. Two days he had to listen to us, to every word translated by his interpreter. Once again we uttered the names of our murdered family members and all the atrocities for which we hold this man partially responsible for.
There was no reaction. Demjanjuk stared at the ceiling, as always.
The Dutch lawyer Manuel Bloch also spoke directly to Demjanjuk and his lawyer:
“The term ‘historical fact’ has often been used, or shall I say misused, by the defense in this case. This is the historical fact, Mr. Demjanjuk: it was you who on June 11, 1943, assisted in the notorious murder of 1,143 children between the ages of zero and 16 who came from Vught.” Demjanjuk did not react to these words either. What does he care?
Professor Cornelius Nestler, head of the legal team, gave the final words at the end of these two poignant days. He elaborated how legitimate it was to put Demjanjuk on trial almost 70 years after the fact. His live full of lies has brought him here, and sympathy should not be squandered on him.
The room applauded following Nestler’s words. Judge Ralph Alt looked up and smiled. “The court notices approval in the room,” he said, still smiling. And then he adjourned the session. How we would have liked to also applaud the judge.
On the first day, a strange incident occurred during recess. When Demjanjuk was brought to the toilet, Mrs. Busch grabbed her chance to provoke us. She followed the defendant to the hallway and gave him a chocolate easter bunny. Then, in Ukranian, she sang a birthday song for the man who just turned 91 a few weeks ago.
All of us co-prosecutors, who were also in the hallway, listened in astonishment.