Testimony at Demjanjuk trial in Germany suggests escape for guards at Nazi camps was deadly

MUNICH, Germany (AP) — Ukrainian guards risked being killed by their SS supervisors if they tried to flee Nazi death camps where they served, according to evidence presented Monday at the trial of John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio autoworker accused of being a death camp guard.

The 90-year-old, Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk has denied ever having served as a guard. However, the historical evidence could bolster his defense's separate argument that any Ukrainians who agreed to serve the Nazis did so to escape deplorable conditions in prisoner of war camps, or possible death, and couldn't flee once they learned they would be guarding death camps.

Demjanjuk faces 28,060 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a guard at the Nazi's Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.

The prosecution argues that after Demjanjuk, a Soviet Red Army soldier, was captured by the Germans in 1942 he agreed to serve under the SS as a guard.

Demjanjuk says he spent most of the rest of the war in Nazi POW camps before joining the so-called Vlasov Army of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others. That army was formed to fight with the Germans against the encroaching Soviets in the final months of the war.

A 1943 letter from the Auschwitz death camp administration to authorities in Germany, presented to the court Monday, seemed to reinforce the defense argument.

In it, the Auschwitz officials reported that 15 Ukrainian guards attempted to escape and that while six succeeded, one was recaptured and eight were killed.

The reading of historical evidence into the record by trial judges came after a monthlong summer break in the trial, which began last November.

Unlike in previous sessions, Demjanjuk wore regular glasses instead of sunglasses and had no cap pulled low over his face.

When asked by Presiding Judge Ralph Alt if he was feeling well enough to follow the proceedings sitting up rather than lying on a bed as usual, however, he said he wasn't.

"I must lie down," he said through his interpreter.

(This version corrects that letter was sent to authorities in Germany, not to the camp where the guards were trained.)