Monday 30 November 2009

The final trial?

What may turn out to be the last war crimes trial of World War Two is due to open today in Munich. 89 year old retired US car worker John Demjanjuk is accused of helping to murder more than 27,000 Jews at the Nazi death camp of Sobibor in what is now Poland.

Demnjanjuk, who was born in the Ukraine, was captured by the Nazis while fighting against them in the Soviet army. He denies even being at Sobibor. In the 1980’s he was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible” – a notorious guard at the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps, and sentenced to death in Israel, but the conviction was overturned as unsafe by the Israeli supreme court.

The first World War Two war crimes trials started as early as 1943 when the tide of war in the east turned, and the Soviets began to drive back the German army. The Allies set up a War Crimes Commission in October of that year hoping that it might cause the Nazis to hesitate over their mass murder project, but it did not.

The most famous of the war crimes trials began at Nuremberg in November 1945. Goering managed to cheat the hangman by swallowing poison in his cell, but another ten defendants were executed.

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