A German Jew sent to Britain as a schoolboy to escape Hitler's gas chambers is to be a witness for the prosecution at what is expected to be the last great Nazi war crimes trial.
Kurt Gutmann, 82, has been chosen as one of a handful of co-plaintiffs who will testify against John Demjanjuk, who is accused of taking part in the murders of 27,900 people at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland. Kurt’s brother Hans and his mother Jeanette died there in 1942, two of 250,000 Jews killed at the camp.
'It is the last thing I wish for,' said Kurt, a former translator who now lives in Berlin. 'Perhaps I don’t have much more time. But I still want to experience one more thing: just punishment for John Demjanjuk.'
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, 89, was extradited from America earlier this year after a marathon legal battle. He had emigrated to America in 1952 where he had lived quietly until 1977 when Israel claimed he was a notorious former guard in Treblinka known as 'Ivan the Terrible'.
He was extradited and convicted by Israel of war crimes and sentenced to death in 1988. He appealed and was freed in 1993 and returned to America after fresh evidence showed he was not Ivan. But Germany then pursued him, saying they had proof he was a guard at Sobibor and he was extradited in May. He is expected to go on trial within a year, and because of the ages of people involved in wartime activities, it is likely to be the last major war crimes trial.
Prosecutors in Munich say they have a wealth of evidence to place him as a guard in the death complex even though Demjanjuk says he is innocent.
Kurt was a frightened 12-year-old boy when he waved goodbye to his mother Jeanette and elder brother Hans, 21, as a train taking him to a new life in Britain pulled out of Mühlheim in Germany’s industrial Ruhr on June 23 1939, just weeks before World War Two began.
Demjanjuk's service card
But even before the war started, many Jews in Germany, fearing what was to come, sent their children abroad, with about 10,000 youngsters going to Britain. Another brother, Fritz, had been sent to a Jewish orphange in Glasgow and Kurt joined him.
Kurt said: 'I remember my mother kissing me, wrapping me in her arms and then saying; ‘Look after yourself my son. And please try to get us over there.’ 'They were the last words I ever heard from her. 'She got me away because I was under 16. The Nazis wouldn’t let Hans go because he was older.'
In 1942 his mother, a widow, and Hans were transported from Nazi Germany to a labour camp called Izbica near Lublin, Poland. Workers who collapsed on the job were moved to the nearby death camp of Sobibor, where the pair were murdered before the end of that year. Demjanjuk is believed to have been a guard at the camp at that time.
Kurt spent a year at the orphanage before moving to Annan in Dumfrieshire and then on to Skelmorlie in Ayrshire where he spent two years at a Jewish hostel before returning to Glasgow to take up an apprenticeship at a tool-making company. He joined the army in 1944 and returned to Germany as a member of the occupying British Forces in 1945. While there he discovered what had happened to his mother and brother. He eventually left the army and settled in Berlin where he married, raised two sons and worked as a translator. He has since made two pilgrimages to lay a memorial stone in memory of his mother and brother at the site of the camp, which was destroyed by the S.S. in 1943 after a prisoner revolt.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
German Jew sent to Britain as schoolboy to escape Hitler set to testify at last great Nazi war crimes trial | Mail Online
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