The trail of Jon Ivan Demanjuk opened this afternoon in a court in Munich. The 89-year-old, accused of serving as a guard in the Sobibor death camp, thus assisting the murder of 27,900 Jews in 1943, was brought to court in an ambulance, entering the courtroom in a wheelchair.
Hundreds of journalists waited for Demanjuk from the early morning hours outside the courthouse. It was almost 12 o’clock noon when he entered the room in a wheelchair. A short time earlier an ambulance arrived at the courthouse bringing the aged man to the opening of the hearing.
The opening of the hearing was postponed for over an hour due to the pressure at the entrance to the room, following the arrival of some 200 reporters from all over the world.
Due to his age and illness a decision was taken to restrict hearings to 90 minute sessions, twice a week. Sentence is expected in May. Since he does not speak German all the hearings will be interpreted, which will lengthen the judicial process and make it cumbersome.
Who is Ivan the Terrible?
Demanjuk is etched upon Israeli memory as Ivan the Terrible from Treblinka, however he is presently accused of a far lesser crime: that he was someone else in another place. A POW of the Red Army in the Ukraine, who volunteered to serve in an SS auxiliary unit after facing a cruel choice: to serve in a POW camp which the Germans prepared for the Soviet soldiers, camps from which the majority of POWs did not return, or join a Nazi guard unit. He was no more than a simple Wachman, a watchman, but a watchman in the Sobibor death camp, as well as the camps in Majdanek, Flossenbürg and Trevniki.
No more than 120 staff members served in Sobibor at any given time. They murdered over 100,000 people. For the vast majority of the victims their stay in the camp was minimal, at times not longer than 30 minutes: they came there to be murdered.