Death camp survivor ready to witness against Nazi guard
When they were young, Aleksey Vaitsen and John Demjanjuk grew up in nearby Ukrainian towns, shared a language and even looked a bit alike. Many decades later, their fates could not have turned out more different. One narrowly escaped death at a Nazi camp; the other is accused of working there.
“I’ve seen him in the camp. He was a guard there,” Aleksey told RT. “He was trying to save his life by taking the lives of others. I’ve always believed in God. When I was in the death camp, God was my only hope. And I know that he will be punished. It just can’t be that a person who caused so much pain could go unpunished.”
Although he may seem frail and incapacitated seem now, John Demjanjuk is accused of assisting tens of thousands of murders. For the past 30 years, he has faced a series of legal actions but has always portrayed himself as the tortured rather than the torturer.
Extradited to Germany for his second trial, Demjanjuk is accused of serving as an SS guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland – the facility that was created with a single purpose of exterminating Jews. In the three years that Sobibor existed, it is believed to have become the burial ground for approximately 250,000 people. Indeed, dozens of Soviet war prisoners did help the Germans by volunteering to serve as guards. Demjanjuk is thought to be one of them.
Ilya Altman, director of Russia’s Holocaust Museum, says all guards were perfectly aware of what they were doing.
“Everybody who volunteered to be a guard had to go through special training and had to pledge allegiance to the Third Reich. And every guard, at some point or another, took part in the extermination process. They all realized what they were there for.”
It was in Sobibor that Aleksey Vaitsen spent 15 months hovering between life and death and where, he says, he first saw Demjanjuk.
One of less than 50 Sobibor inmates to survive the war, Aleksey is the only living person who claims to have seen Demjanjuk at the camp – a confession that, if verified, could be the decisive testimony in the trial.
This will be the first time German prosecutors have ever questioned him. Dmitry Plotkin, aide to Prosecutor of the Ryazan region, says they should hurry:
“Those who study the history of the Holocaust have known about Aleksey for years. It’s a tragedy that such an important eyewitness is being forgotten while his health and his memory wither away. Time is playing in favor of the defense’s side here.”
Meanwhile, Aleksey Vaitsen, who lost his entire family to the Nazi regime, is desperately clinging on to life, hoping that justice, rather than nature, will take its course. At 87, he is just two years younger than John Demjanjuk and, while he has many problems with his health, he is intent on outliving his former countryman.