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Demjanjuk trial hears of Nazi death camp horrors
December 22, 2009 / 5:19 PM / 8 years ago

Demjanjuk trial hears of Nazi death camp horrors

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - A survivor of the Nazi death camp at which John Demjanjuk is accused of helping to kill 27,900 Jews recalled in court on Tuesday losing his wife after a three-day train journey to the extermination center.

<p>Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk is brought in a courtroom in Munich December 22, 2009. REUTERS/Joerg Koch/Pool</p>

Demjanjuk, lying on a hospital bed, said nothing as Jules Schelvis, 88, described for the trial in Munich his arrival at the Sobibor death camp in Poland, where German state prosecutors accuse the 89-year-old defendant of assisting in killings.

The former U.S. carworker, who is charged as an accessory to murder in the 27,900 deaths, showed no emotion as Schelvis recalled being crammed into a train wagon for the journey to Sobibor, where he was separated from his wife on arrival.

“I couldn’t greet or kiss her any more. We had to look straight ahead,” said Schelvis, his voice breaking with emotion.

Prosecutors say at least 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor. They accuse Demjanjuk, who was top of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most-wanted war criminals, of knowingly herding thousands of Jews to their deaths at the camp.

Schelvis, whose wife was gassed, said he joined a group of 80 other young men after arriving at Sobibor and that they were sent to work at another camp, where those who found the labor too arduous were hanged.

“I saw terrible things,” recalled the Dutch pensioner, who lost several relatives at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk’s case is likely to be Germany’s last major Nazi-era war crimes trial. Due to his frailty, hearings are limited to two 90-minute sessions a day.

Demjanjuk was born in Ukraine and fought in the Soviet army before being captured by the Nazis and recruited as a camp guard. He emigrated to the United States in 1951.

He has acknowledged being at other camps but not at Sobibor, which prosecutors say was run by between 20 and 30 members of the Nazi SS and up to 150 Soviet former prisoners of war.

In May, Demjanjuk was extradited from the United States where he had lived in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.

In the Sobibor gas chambers, Jews died within 20 to 30 minutes after inhaling a toxic mixture of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, prosecutors said. Groups of about 80 were forced into gas chambers measuring about 4 by 4 meters (13 ft by 13 ft).

The trial is scheduled to resume on January 12.

Writing by Paul Carrel; editing by Michael Roddy

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