No, no, says Rudie Cortissos, his family didn't originally come from Greece, the name just sounds Greek. They were Sephardic Jews from Portugal, he says.
Cortissos is sitting at the dining room table of his bright and spacious apartment in Amsterdam. He is surrounded by plush carpets, cut-glass decanters, silver bowls and wooden sculptures from Africa and Asia -- the inventory of a successful life. Cortissos, 70, now retired, saw the world as a pharmaceuticals representative. His wife lifts up the framed photos from the sideboard, one by one: two children, four grandchildren.
Cortissos only has one photo of his mother Emmy. It shows a beautiful young woman. He also has the letter that she wrote to her husband and son, who were able to remain in their hiding place. She threw it from the train before it started heading east on May 18, 1943. Cortissos starts to read the letter, but his voice cracks with emotion. He takes off his horn-rimmed glasses and wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his suit jacket. "Words of encouragement," says Cortissos. "She had absolutely no idea what was going to happen."
His mother died a few days later in the gas chambers of the Sobibor extermination camp, 1,300 km (800 miles) from Amsterdam, along with nearly all of the 2,461 men, women and children on board that train, which left the Dutch concentration camp of Westerbork headed for hell. More than 60 members of Cortissos' extended family lost their lives in the death factories of the Nazis.
This weekend Cortissos will travel to Munich with a prepared statement. He intends to tell the court how Sobibor has burnt itself into his life -- and the lives of the other members of his family. Sobibor is there when he lights a gas stove, when he sees a showerhead and when he goes to the dentist and has to think about gold crowns broken out of victims' jaws.
Next week the trial of Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, 89, will begin in Munich Regional Court. The public prosecutor's office accuses him of being a camp guard in Sobibor during the days in 1943 when Rudie Cortissos' mother was murdered for only one reason -- because she was a Jew.
The court has accepted a total of 35 co-plaintiffs, which even exceeds the number who took part in the spectacular Frankfurt Auschwitz trials from 1963 to 1965. Approximately 20 of them will attend the opening day of the trial: men and women who lost parents, siblings, spouses and, in some cases, entire families.
They hope that the suffering of their family members will finally be made public before a court of law. "The co-plaintiffs want truth and justice," said Cornelius Nestler, a law professor from Cologne who is representing around 30 men and women from the group. "Everyone who was responsible for the murders must bear that responsibility until the end of his life."
Most of the co-plaintiffs live in the Netherlands and have been discussing the upcoming trial for months. On Monday morning they will be seated in Room 101 of Munich's criminal justice center, a courtroom with steep rows of seats arranged in a semi-circle and a seating capacity of 147, which will not be enough to accommodate all the journalists and members of the general public. Over 200 reporters have already registered to attend the trial.