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Families of Nazi victims testify in 2d day of Demjanjuk trial

Defendant arrives on gurney again

By David Rising
Associated Press / December 2, 2009

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MUNICH - Rudolf Salomon Cortissos sobbed as he told a Munich court about the letter his mother had written on May 17, 1943 - four days before she was gassed in the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp with some 2,300 other Dutch Jews.

Cortissos testified yesterday, the second day in a German court for John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio autoworker being tried on charges of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews in the Sobibor camp, including Cortissos’ mother, Emmy.

Sitting only feet away from Demjanjuk, Cortissos said he found her letter after his father died in 1959. His mother had tossed it from the train that was taking her from Holland before it crossed the German border, Cortissos testified. The family had been in hiding, but she had been picked up in a sweep after going outside.

In neat handwriting, on a single piece of yellowed paper folded into quarters, Cortissos’ mother told the family she was being sent east to work - a lie propagated by the Nazis so people would be less likely to resist.

“I promise you I will be tough and I will definitely survive,’’ she wrote in what turned out to be her final words to her family.

Demjanjuk, 89, was deported from the United States in May to stand trial in Germany. He rejects the charges, saying he has been mistaken for someone else.

Demjanjuk, who suffers from several medical problems, was wheeled in to the Munich state court on a gurney yesterday, slightly propped up lying on his back. He arrived much the same way on Monday, the day the trial began. A blanket covered his legs and his leather jacket was zipped up to his neck. As Cortissos told his story, Demjanjuk kept a blue baseball cap low over his face and had no visible reaction.

“I had hoped we would have had kind of an eye contact, but we didn’t,’’ the 70-year-old Cortissos said. “So far, it’s an old man - no emotional feelings, the way he is.’’

Cortissos was one of five co-plaintiffs who made statements yesterday.