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Demjanjuk Trial Begins in Germany

Suspected former Nazi death camp guard in what is likely to be one of the last major Nazi-era war crimes trials

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Lisa Bryant

What will likely be Germany's last Nazi-era war crimes trial is underway in Munich.  On the dock is 89-year-old John Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. auto worker who is accused of participating in the killing of thousands of Jews at a concentration camp in Poland.

John Demjanjuk arrived at the Munich courthouse in an ambulance.  He did not speak as the trial opened, and he kept his eyes mostly closed.

But his lawyer, Ulrich Busch, accused the judge and prosecutors of bias.  He said Germans who worked at the Sobibor death camp in then Nazi-occupied Poland, where Demjanjuk is accused of working as a guard, were acquitted in previous trials.

Demjanjuk has been tried before for alleged Nazi-era crimes.  An Israeli court sentenced him to death in the 1980s on charges of being a brutal camp guard nicknamed Ivan the Terrible.  The supreme court later overturned the ruling on grounds of mistaken identity.

Now Demjanjuk is again in court on charges he was an ordinary camp guard.  If proved, that would make him the lowest-ranking person to go on trial for Nazi war crimes.

Nonetheless, the prosecution accuses him of complicity in the killings of nearly 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor camp.  One of the court witnesses, camp survivor Thomas Blatt, spoke to reporters as he arrived at the courthouse.

Blatt said he would tell the court how things were at the camp.  He said he did not know Demjanjuk personally.  He hoped Demjanjuk would be sentenced if he was found guilty, but he is not looking for revenge.

Demjanjuk says he is again a victim of mistaken identity.  He says he served as a Soviet army soldier and was himself held prisoner.  Demjanjuk emigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a U.S. citizen six years later.  He has since been stripped of his citizenship.  His trial is expected to last until May.

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