Holocaust haunts my dreams, survivor tells court

MUNICH, Germany Tue Jan 19, 2010 3:02pm EST

Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk is pictured in a court in Munich, January 19, 2010. REUTERS/Oliver Lang/Pool

Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk is pictured in a court in Munich, January 19, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Oliver Lang/Pool

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Frail Holocaust survivor Thomas Blatt told a court on Tuesday he still has nightmares about the months he spent at the Sobibor death camp, in moving testimony in the trial of accused Nazi guard John Demjanjuk.

Blatt, 82, whose family was killed at Sobibor, was composed but pale. His hands shook and he spoke quietly and with hesitation. At the age of 15, Blatt was ordered to sort out the belongings of Jews sent to the gas chambers at the camp.

A co-plaintiff in the case against Demjanjuk, who is charged with helping to murder 27,900 Jews in 1943, Blatt was giving testimony for the first time. Prosecutors say Demjanjuk, 89, was a guard at Sobibor at the time Blatt was there.

"My dreams are so real. I cannot escape. I am still there," Blatt, a co-plaintiff in the case, told the court in a confusing mixture of English and German. "We knew we would die, that we would be gassed."

Blatt said he did not recognize Demjanjuk from his time at Sobibor, an extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland that prosecutors say was run by 20 to 30 Nazi SS members and up to 150 Soviet prisoners of war.

Demjanjuk, lying on a bed in the court room did not look at or respond to Blatt and pulled a baseball cap low over his face so his eyes were hidden.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk fought in the Red Army before being captured by the Nazis. He is accused by prosecutors of working as a guard for the SS and helping them kill Jews at the camp.

The case, likely to be one of Germany's last major war crimes trials, has drawn major international interest.

Demjanjuk denies a role in the Holocaust and his lawyers dispute he was at Sobibor. His family say he is too frail to go on trial.

Blatt, who had difficulty hearing questions and looked exhausted by the end of the session, said if Demjanjuk was at Sobibor at the same time as him, he was a murderer.

"There were only 17 SS soldiers in Sobibor at any (one) time. The Ukrainian guards carried out the killings. They pushed people into the gas chambers," Blatt told reporters.

Jews at the camp died 20 to 30 minutes after inhaling a toxic mix of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, say prosecutors.

Blatt, who lives in the United States, said he did not know why he was selected to work. He was in the camp for about six months in mid-1943. He took part in an uprising at the camp in October 1943 in which prisoners killed SS guards and escaped.

Demjanjuk emigrated to the United States in 1951 and became an auto worker. Extradited from the United States in May, he could spend the rest of his life in jail if found guilty.

"I'm not looking for revenge. I want justice," said Blatt.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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