Defendant Accuses Prosecutors of Harassing Him
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Under intense cross-examination, John Demjanjuk today accused an Israeli prosecutor in his Nazi war crimes trial of harassing him about minute details of his wartime past.
In his fourth day of testimony, the retired Ohio autoworker repeatedly contradicted testimony he had given in the United States about his duties as a prisoner of war.
The 67-year-old, Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk is accused of being the brutal death camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible, who operated the gas chambers that killed 850,000 Jews at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942-43.
Demjanjuk, who was captured by the Nazis while serving in the Soviet Red Army, claims he is a victim of mistaken identity and has testified he was at two prisoner-of-war camps in Poland during the period when five survivors have said he was at Treblinka.
Demjanuk’s memory of dates and what he did in the camps and afterwards has been faulty or contradicted what he told U.S. courts about his whereabouts in 1942-43.
Prosecutor Michael Shaked chided Demjanjuk for giving conflicting accounts about when Demjanjuk’s mother informed Soviet authorities he had not died in World War II.
″If you want to say the opposite of what you said in the United States, that’s your right,″ Shaked said.″You’re the accused in this case, and you have to make us believe you. But if you want to take this approach, you are free to.″
Demjanjuk, his frustration boiling to the surface, responded: ″Mr. Prosecutor, you keep interrogating me about every little detail. I don’t know what my mother did, or when it was. You keep harassing me.″
In 1981, Demjanjuk told a Cleveland court his mother informed Soviet authorities sometime between 1952 and 1954 that her son was still alive. But now Demjanjuk said his mother told the Soviets it was in 1961.
About 450 spectators watched the proceedings in the courtroom in a converted movie theater at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Haooma Auditorium. Some in the audience tittered when the defendant faltered.
Demjanjuk, of a Cleveland suburb, wore a grey suit and spoke in a composed, resonant voice through most of the testimony, which he gave in Ukrainian and which was translated into Hebrew for the three-judge panel.
Another point of controversy arose over Demjanjuk’s claim in court earlier this week that while at he was at a camp in Chelm one of his duties was to dig peat.
Prosecutor Yonah Blattman said Demjanjuk told a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Department official in Cleveland in 1978 that while at Chelm he built barracks. Blattman said Demjanjuk did not mention working with peat.
″You dug peat under terrible circumstances, for practically 10 months ... how do you account for this memory lapse?″ Blattman said.
″Nobody had prepared me like you prepare witneses in Israel,″ Demjanjuk replied.
Presiding Judge Dov Levine interrupted to tell the defendant, ″You don’t need to be prepared to tell the truth. Either it is in your memory or it isn’t.″
Blattman then accused Demjanjuk of bringing up the peat in his testimony this week because there were peat bogs near Treblinka.
″I wasn’t there,″ Demjanjuk insisted.
Demjanjuk’s Israeli defense attorney Yoram Sheftel interrupted on several occasions to object to the line of questioning about peat, which took up about 90 minutes of today’s session.
″You can’t spend hours asking the same question even if he’s the defendant,″ Sheftel said.
His voice rising, Levine said, ″Objection overruled. This is a very critical topic.″
Blattman also said Demjanjuk had failed to mention he was ever at Chelm during the 1978 questioning in Cleveland.
″Then you had to come up with some name of a prisoner-of-war camp, is that not right?″ the prosecutor said.
″It wasn’t a question of finding the camp. I was there. I just had to remember the name,″ Demjanjuk replied.
Asked about the defendant’s contradictions in testimony, attorney Sheftel told a reporter, ″I think it is normal that under such pressure he would forget things.″