JERUSALEM — John Demjanjuk cross-examined a witness for the first time today at his Nazi war crimes trial, interrupting his own attorney to ask what he called "simpler" questions of a Berlin historian.
Demjanjuk, who is accused of being the Nazi death camp guard "Ivan the Terrible," broke into his American attorney's cross-examination of Wolfgang Scheffler to say he wanted to ask some questions.
The three-judge panel agreed, and the 67-year-old defendant leaned toward the microphone and said: "I would like to stress that the questions which should be asked now are critically important for me after I have been sitting in jail for so long.
"I know what the future can hold for me," he said, speaking in a loud, clear voice. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Testimony About SS Card
Scheffler had testified that he believes an SS identity card from the Trawniki prisoner of war camp which bears Demjanjuk's name is authentic. The defense contends the document was forged by the Soviet Union.
Demjanjuk, speaking in Ukrainian, questioned Scheffler about the color of the uniforms worn at Trawniki in Nazi-occupied Poland, where the prosecution alleges Demjanjuk was trained to be a guard before being sent to the nearby Treblinka death camp. An estimated 850,000 Jews were killed at Treblinka in 1942-43.
The defendant said Scheffler initially identified the Trawniki uniforms as being black and later said they were yellow. Scheffler denied that he ever said the uniforms were yellow.
Demjanjuk also questioned Scheffler about the Trawniki card, asking whether a button worn by the man pictured on it was on the collar of the jacket or the shirt underneath.
"I don't see as a historian how I can give information about a button," Scheffler responded. "Maybe you can tell us what happened in terms of uniforms?"
Presiding Judge Dov Levine intervened to block Demjanjuk from answering the question, and Demjanjuk's attorney, Mark O'Connor, said the statement was an indication of Scheffler's bias.
Questions Based on Testimony
Demjanjuk told the court that his questions were based on his careful attention to testimony.
"It's not based on my own knowledge, but on testimony I have heard in these proceedings," he said.
"I've seen this picture for eight years now, and I have seen many things indicating that this was a forgery," he said, adding that when he first saw the Trawniki identity card, "it was as if I was wearing a pullover and no details were visible. And today in Israel I can see this photo clearly."
After asking questions for about 45 minutes, Demjanjuk profusely thanked Scheffler and the judges, saying: "I am grateful that they have acted justly and I have been able to (ask about) all of these details."
Demjanjuk claims he is a victim of mistaken identity. He says he was never at Trawniki or Treblinka and claims that the Soviets forged the Trawniki card to punish him for fighting in a Nazi army unit after he was taken prisoner while serving in the Russian Red Army.