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Former guard says Demjanjuk was at Nazi camp

Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk arrives in a courtroom in Munich, southern Germany Wednesday Feb. 24, 2010. Demjanjuk, a 89-year-old former U.S. auto worker, is on trial in Germany facing charges he helped force 27,900 Jews into gas chambers in the Sobibor extermination camp in 1943. Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk arrives in a courtroom in Munich, southern Germany Wednesday Feb. 24, 2010. Demjanjuk, a 89-year-old former U.S. auto worker, is on trial in Germany facing charges he helped force 27,900 Jews into gas chambers in the Sobibor extermination camp in 1943. (AP Photo/Tobias Hase, Pool)
By David Rising
Associated Press Writer / February 24, 2010

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MUNICH—John Demjanjuk served as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp in Bavaria during World War II, a former Soviet soldier who was taken prisoner by the Germans testified at the retired Ohio autoworker's trial Wednesday.

But witness Alex Nagorny, who agreed to serve the Nazis after his capture, raised doubts about the case against Demjanjuk, telling the court the man on trial in Munich state court didn't look like his fellow guard at the Flossenbuerg camp.

Prosecutors allege that, like Nagorny, Demjanjuk agreed to serve the Germans and was trained at the Trawniki SS camp before being sent to work as a camp guard.

Demjanjuk, 89, is accused of serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland, and charged as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews there.

Demjanjuk denies ever serving as a camp guard anywhere, saying he has been mistaken for someone else.

However, Nagorny told the Munich state court that he knew Demjanjuk from the Flossenbuerg camp.

"We were brought there and Ivan was already there," the 92-year-old testified, referring to Demjanjuk by his birth name. "He was a guard there. He did the same thing I did. I did not know him before Flossenbuerg."

Nagorny has previously told investigators he arrived at Flossenbuerg with Demjanjuk.

Nagorny testified he lived with Demjanjuk in a barracks room in Flossenbuerg and then shared an apartment with him in Landshut, Germany, after the war.

But when asked to identify Demjanjuk in the courtroom, he could not.

Nagorny walked over to the bed where Demjanjuk lay and looked at him closely. When Demjanjuk removed the sunglasses that he was wearing, Nagorny said quickly: "That's definitely not him -- no resemblance."

Demjanjuk has already been the victim of mistaken identify once, when he was tried in the 1980s in Israel on accusations he was the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp.

His conviction and death sentence were overturned when it was determined someone else was that guard.

Nagorny did not recognize a picture of Demjanjuk from the Israel trial.

He also called into question a key piece of evidence -- a Trawniki identity card that prosecutors say has a picture of Demjanjuk on it, and indicates he worked at Sobibor.

Nagorny testified that in the final days of the war he was with Demjanjuk and other Trawniki guards, and that they destroyed their cards before being taken prisoner by the Americans.

"Some burned them and some threw them away," he told the court. "I burned my ID card."

The defense has claimed the card is a postwar forgery by the Soviets.

Nagorny's testimony shows that "it couldn't have been found by the Russians in Trawniki" as has been claimed, defense attorney Ulrich Busch told the AP.

Although Demjanjuk isn't charged with any crimes at Flossenbuerg, Nagorny's statement that they were guards there is important, said Thomas Walther, who led the investigation that prompted Germany to prosecute Demjanjuk.

"Here is a living witness who can say, 'I was a Trawniki man and with me was Demjanjuk who was also a Trawniki man,'" Walther told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the trial. "That's important here because Demjanjuk says he was not a Trawniki (man)."

Demjanjuk maintains he was a Soviet soldier who was captured by the Germans and spent most of the rest of the war in prison camps.

Millions of Soviet prisoners died in German captivity and, while denying that Demjanjuk ever served as a guard, the defense has argued those who agreed to serve the Nazis had no choice.

Nagorny, another Ukrainian native, testified that didn't know he would be used as a camp guard when he agreed to work for the Nazis.

"I was simply asked if I wanted to work and I was hungry," he testified. "That was all."

The special German prosecutors' office responsible for investigating Nazi-era crimes is investigating Nagorny himself to see whether he might have served at the Treblinka death camp.

There is evidence implicating a "Nagorny" as having served as a Treblinka guard, but investigators have said it is unclear whether it is the same person.

Prosecutors argue that to have served at one of the Nazi death camps in occupied Poland -- whose sole purpose was extermination -- is enough to accuse someone of accessory to murder.

The argument does not extend to those who served at concentration camps like Flossenbuerg where, though scores were killed or died through inhumane treatment, people were not necessarily sent simply to be murdered.