John Demjanjuk told police that even if he were the Nazi guard called “Ivan the Terrible,” he was only following orders and could not be blamed for the wartime slaughter of thousands of Jews, an Israeli investigator testified Thursday.
But in the same breath, Israeli interrogator Alexander Ish-Shalom testified, Demjanjuk denied being Ivan, the sadistic guard who ran the Treblinka death camp’s gas chambers.
“If I was in Treblinka, then I was just a small cog,” Demjanjuk allegedly told authorities. “There was a war on, and there was no choice but to follow orders. But I was never in Treblinka.”
Ish-Shalom, chief of an Israeli investigation team in the war crimes case, said Demjanjuk reportedly made the statements to U.S. marshals who escorted him from Ohio to Israel and discussed the remark again with investigators in Israel.
The U.S. marshals are scheduled to testify later in the trial on the statements by Demjanjuk, who faces the death penalty if convicted of being the Treblinka guard.
Ish-Shalom also told the court that Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian who moved to the United States after World War II, was unable to back up claims that he spent the war years locked up in Nazi POW camps. He said Demjanjuk could not remember the names of the German prison camps or the names of any fellow inmates.
The defendant also was unable to provide other basic details of his whereabouts during the years “Ivan the Terrible” worked at Treblinka.
“The man was not able to give even one name, not even the name of the man who slept in the bunk above him,” Ish-Shalom said of his conversations with Demjanjuk.
Demjanjuk also shocked authorities when he blurted out, “You are pushing me to Treblinka!” before any of the interrogators ever mentioned the name of the camp where more than 850,000 Jews were put to death.
Ish-Shalom said Demjanjuk had “no response” when asked why six Treblinka survivors said they saw him at the extermination camp.
Prosecutors also handed the court a document purported to be Demjanjuk’s identification card from a Nazi SS training camp, where guards were trained for duty at Treblinka and other extermination centers.
The card, obtained from the Soviet Union by U.S. industrialist Armand Hammer, a close associate of several Kremlin leaders, contains a picture resembling Demjanjuk and a signature. The defense says the document is a phony, concocted by the Soviet KGB in a campaign against Demjanjuk.
The card will undergo court-ordered laboratory tests to determine whether it is authentic.
The second Nazi war crimes trial in Israeli history will enter its fourth week Monday with Ish-Shalom again on the witness stand.
So far, four Treblinka surivors have testified in the case, with two insisting they are positive Demjanjuk and Ivan are the same man. The others made tentative identifications.