Published January 11, 2011
MUNICH – John Demjanjuk's defense attorney said Tuesday that transcripts of testimony by a former guard at a Nazi death camp, who acknowledged that he was tortured by the Soviets into confessing to committing war crimes, show that all such confessions should be considered suspect.
In the transcript of the 1951 trial in the Soviet Union, read into the record as evidence Tuesday at the Munich state court, a former Red Army soldier who was captured by the Nazis and then served as a guard at Majdanek camp said he confessed to killing Jews only after being beaten.
The soldier told the Soviet court he had been a guard at Majdanek, but had not participated in any killing, according to the transcript.
Defense attorney Ulrich Busch used the confession of alleged torture as an example of why testimonies like that should not be considered as evidence in the current trial.
Demjanjuk is standing trial on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for allegedly having been a guard at a different death camp, Sobibor. He denies the charges.
Part of the evidence against him comes from summaries of statements from a 1949 Soviet interrogation of ex-guard Ignat Danilchenko, who said he remembered Demjanjuk from Sobibor.
Busch has questioned those statements, saying they were likely made under torture — and an expert witness testified they should be treated with the "highest caution" because they came from a KGB interrogation. U.S. investigators in the past have also said they contain numerous factual errors.
However, Michael Koch, an attorney for about 30 relatives of Sobibor victims who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs as allowed under the German legal system, said the 1951 testimony introduced Tuesday showed that even if Soviet's tortured prisoners of war in the immediate postwar years, they were not afraid to talk about it later.
The Munich court on Tuesday also canceled a session scheduled for Wednesday, saying that Demjanjuk needed to undergo medical tests.
The court did not elaborate, and Busch would not comment, but the 90-year-old suffers from a variety of health problems.
His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., told The Associated Press that he didn't know of the cancellation but that he spoke with his father Monday and that he said his spine problems were getting worse and more painful.
David Rising contributed to this report from Berlin.