A Russian survivor of the Sobibor Nazi death camp says he can identify accused guard John Demjanjuk, Czech Radio reported on Wednesday, offering potentially crucial evidence for the former soldier’s trial.
Demjanjuk, who fought in the Russian Red Army before being captured and recruited as a Nazi camp guard, is on trial in Munich, accused of participating in the killing of 27,900 Jews at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland.
Demjanjuk denies a role in the Holocaust.
Former Sobibor prisoner Aleksei Weizen told Czech public radio in an interview that he remembered Demjanjuk. "I remember him as a guard, I saw him before he took a group of detainees to work in the woods," the 87-year-old Russian told the station.
This would be the first time someone could identify the accused directly, the radio station said. The report did not mention Weizen had any evidence other than his own memory.
Demjanjuk’s lawyer Guenther Maull told Reuters he had heard of Weizen in conjunction with Sobibor before, but that he was not aware of the claims made in the Czech radio report.
Weizen is listed online as a survivor of the Sobibor camp by the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. His name has also been transliterated from Russian as Alexei Vaytsen.
Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel in 1986 and sentenced to death in 1988 after Holocaust survivors said he was the sadistic guard known as "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka camp where 870,000 people died.
The Israeli Supreme Court overturned that conviction in 1993 and freed Demjanjuk after fresh evidence showed another man was probably the Treblinka guard.
The central office of the state justice administration for the investigation of National Socialist crimes, Germany’s main agency for probing Nazi atrocities, said it had not been aware of Weizen and that he was a potential witness.
A spokesman for the office said it would pass on details of Weizen to prosecutors in Munich, but that it was for the court to decide whether they wanted to hear his testimony.
"He could be brought in at any time," Kurt Schrimm, Germany’s chief Nazi war crimes investigator, told Reuters.
The radio said Weizen was in Sobibor from 1942 until an uprising there in 1943. A reporter interviewed Weizen last week in the city of Ryazan, southeast of Moscow, the station said.
Defence lawyers dispute that Demjanjuk was at Sobibor and say that even if he had been there as a "Trawniki" — a prisoner of war trained to perform duties at camps — he would have done so under duress and to save his own life.
He denies being at Sobibor, which prosecutors say was run by 20-30 Nazi SS members and up to 150 former Soviet war prisoners. But he has in the past acknowledged being at other camps.
His trial is expected to be the last major Nazi-era war crimes case and is being followed closely abroad.
Demjanjuk emigrated to the United States in 1951 and worked in the auto industry. He was extradited from the United States last May. If found guilty, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. His family argues he is too frail to stand trial.