JERUSALEM — John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio auto worker accused of being Nazi guard "Ivan the Terrible," took the stand today and told the court, "I am not the hangman you're after."
It was the retired Cleveland auto worker's first chance during his five-month trial to answer charges that he was the feared guard who tortured thousands of prisoners before sending them to the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Demjanjuk, dressed in a gray suit and smiling occasionally as he sat in the witness box, expressed sympathy for the plight of the Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and sought to portray himself as a victim of injustice.
'My Heart Aches'
"Since the start of my court, I have been watching the shadows of the terrible Treblinka, my heart aches and I sympathize to the depths of my heart with your people for what the Nazis did to them," Demjanjuk said.
"Your honor, I would like to tell you one thing: I am not the hangman you're after. I was never at Trawniki or Sobibor or Treblinka."
Demjanjuk, 67, who faces the death penalty if convicted by the three-judge panel, added a plea: "Please believe me and don't try to put a rope around my neck for something someone else has done."
Identified by Five
Five World War II death camp survivors identified Demjanjuk as "Ivan the Terrible," a guard at the Treblinka camp, where 850,000 people died in gas chambers in 1942 and 1943. A key piece of substantiating evidence was a Nazi ID card that said Demjanjuk was a guard assigned to the Sobibor camp, also in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Trawniki was a training center for camp guards, where the card allegedly was issued. The Soviet Union provided the card, which Demjanjuk claims is a forgery.
Demjanjuk told the court he has light blue eyes and is 6 feet tall, while the identity card issued in the name of "Ivan Demjanjuk" says the man had gray eyes and was 5-foot-7.
He said the picture on the document may have been taken from a photo-identity card he was given on joining the Communist Party youth group Komsomol.