Accessibility links

Demjanjuk Trial Adjouned Until February After Stories of Horror

  • Mariana Schroeder

Survivors testify against accused Nazi death camp guard and former U.S. auto worker charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder

The trial of accused Nazi death camp former guard John Demjanjuk has been adjourned until early February.

The court heard testimony from two eyewitnesses this week in the trial of the 89-year-old Demjanjuk, accused of being a guard at the Sobibor death camp. Both witnesses were teenagers in 1943 when they were deported to the notorious extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

A former U.S. auto worker, Demjanjuk is charged with accessory to murder in 27,900 counts. He denies the charges.

Demjanjuk was extradited to Germany last year to face trial and could face a long jail term if found guilty.

Although neither witness could remember actually seeing Demjanjuk, they told of the brutality of the Ukrainian guards who served there.

Thomas Blatt testified in German, liberally peppered with English. The 82-year old man is a survivor of one of World War Two's most notorious death camps. Today he told the court how he was deported there in 1943 and of the horrors he was forced to witness.

Afterwards in the court cafeteria he talked to VOA about some of his experiences.

"I arrived in Sobibor on April 28, one of the last 200 Jews from a small Polish town called Isbiza. And immediately the transport was sent to the gas chamber except for a few people who were chosen to work. I was one of the lucky ones chosen to work and lived in Sobibor for six months until we killed the Nazis and escaped," Blatt said.

Thomas Blatt was just fifteen years old when he was selected as a prison laborer. Among the jobs he was forced to do was cutting the hair of women who were bound for the gas chamber and sorting out possessions of the Jews who were murdered.

He also worked in a Forest Command, cutting wood used to incinerate the bodies. He told the court what it was like to live in constant fear of his life and said the Trevnicki, the name given the Ukrainian guards who served under the Nazis, were far more brutal than their Nazi masters. John Demjanjuk is accused of being one of those guards.

"Many people look at Demjanjuk with sorrow in their eyes - an old man, sick - we should let him live in peace. But I see different. I see what he has done. The agony he inflicted in people. And in my eyes, if the judge proves he was in Sobibor at the same time as I was he is a murderer," Blatt said.

The sprightly senior citizen who now lives in Santa Barbara, California was one of very few prisoners who managed to escape the camp during a prison revolt in the fall of 1943. For many who lost their families in Sobibor the testimony was hard to take.

Martin Haas came from his home in San Diego to attend the trial. He is a co-plaintiff on behalf of his mother, brother, sister and numerous other family members who were killed in Sobibor. He survived the war because he was hidden with a non-Jewish family in Holland. He says he admires Thomas Blatt and others who revolted against their jailers.

"I am just very proud of him. The conditions there in these camps were unbelievable. We can hardly imagine it sitting in a clean room with judges and attorneys. And to the extent we can understand it - the word terrible means nothing in this connection - these were true heroes when they were being industrially terrorized and murdered they managed to plan their escape," Haas said.

Philip Bialowitz, 84, is another eyewitness who survived the Sobibor Camp. He and his brother were forced to work in the camp while the rest of their family was sent to the gas chamber. He will testify again on Tuesday when the trial continues.