Will Nazi Trial Bring Closure to Holocaust Survivors?

Saved by His German Shepherd

Dutchman David van Huiden, 78, will also be there. In order to save his life, his parents impressed upon him that if the Nazis staged a raid, he should immediately take the family's German shepherd for a walk. They were relying upon the Germans' love of animals to save the 11-year-old boy, and it worked. David was able to pass undisturbed through the roadblocks. He managed to reach a gentile family that was willing to help him. A friend brought him to the province of Friesland, where he was hidden. He assumed a new identity there, went by the name of Paul van Essen, lived through the bombing of Rotterdam, attended church -- and survived.

His mother, his stepfather and his older sister were rounded up and brought to Westerbork. They were placed on a transport of prisoners that left the camp on June 29, 1943, headed for Sobibor.

"My family couldn't defend itself," says van Huiden. Demjanjuk must have also known the value of a human life, he said. "If he's guilty, then he should receive the most severe possible punishment."

But the trial could prove to be a frustrating experience. It won't be easy to prove the defendant's guilt and ensure that he receives a just punishment, as the legal representatives explained to their clients at a meeting in Amsterdam two weeks ago.

A Cog in the Machinery of Death

The man in the dock is not a Nazi bureaucrat like Adolf Eichmann, the so-called "architect of the Holocaust," who was tried and executed in Israel nearly 50 years ago. Nor is Demjanjuk a brutal sadist. This is the first trial of one of the Nazis' foreign helpers, the final link in the chain of command -- the smallest gear in their machinery of death. The co-plaintiffs and the journalists will have trouble recognizing the monstrosity of the Nazis' crimes in this defendant, who will probably remain silent throughout the proceedings.

Demjanjuk was a member of the Red Army when he was captured in the spring of 1942 and placed in a German prisoner of war camp. Officers selected the young man and brought him to the Trawniki camp, east of the Polish city of Lublin, where he and some 5,000 others from Ukraine and the Baltic nations, including ethnic Germans, were taught to conduct raids against Jews and work as guards in concentration camps.

Documents show that one of the places where Demjanjuk served duty was Sobibor, an extermination camp in occupied Poland, where a group of no more than 30 SS henchmen and 120 foreign recruits gassed, shot or beat to death an estimated 250,000 Jews. Demjanjuk was sent there in March 1943, and this transfer is noted on his SS identification card and other documents, which constitute the main body of evidence.

Demjanjuk has been charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder. This number is an artificial construct. Investigators added up the names of those who were deported from Westerbork to Sobibor between April and July, 1943: a total of 29,579 in 15 trains. They then subtracted the number of deportees who presumably died in transit: a legal exercise in arithmetic that sends shivers down one's spine.

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