'Nazi guard' trial hears camp victim's last letter

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The Independent Online

Relatives of Holocaust victims broke down and wept yesterday at the trial of alleged Nazi mass murderer John Demjanjuk as they recalled in harrowing detail how their loved ones were dispatched to their deaths at the Sobibor extermination camp believing they were just being sent away to work.

Ukrainian-born Mr Demjanjuk, 89, was in court on the second day of his trial in Munich where he is accused of complicity in the murder of 29,579 Jews who were slaughtered at the Sobibor camp in German-occupied Poland where he is alleged to have worked as a guard during the Second World War.

Seventy-year-old Rudolf Cortissos, a retired Dutch businessman and one of the 22 co-plaintiffs in the case, sat only a few feet away from Mr Demjanjuk and wept as he recalled how his mother, Emmy, and his aunt and uncle were rounded up by German police and put on a train to Sobibor in May 1943.

Shaking and with tears streaming down his face, Mr Cortissos showed the court a small brown envelope containing a letter his mother had written to him and his father who were in hiding in Holland. She had thrown it out of the train while she was on her way to the gas chambers.

"It was the last thing I ever heard from her," Mr Cortissos told the court. "Two days later she was killed in a gas chamber." He explained how his mother was picked up on the streets of Amsterdam because she was wearing a Jewish yellow star on her chest in accordance with the rules of Nazi-occupied Holland.

The letter, written in pencil in a sloping hand, was addressed to a Dutch woman who was hiding her husband and Mr Cortissos. There was a stamp on the envelope and an unknown person who found it posted it on. It began: "It is Monday evening and we are going to board a train with 2,000 people. We are being sent to work in the east. I will be tough. I will definitely survive. I suppose this had to happen and now there's nothing to be done." It ended: "Take care of my husband, see you again soon. Many kisses."

One of the key witnesses at the trial, Thomas Blatt, now 82, a prisoner in Sobibor at age 15, said he was forced to shave the hair off women prisoners before they were sent to the gas chambers. He said that although Mr Demjanjuk was almost certainly among the 120 guards who worked there , he could no longer positively identify him.

"The guards at Sobibor used to force people into the gas chambers with bayonets," he said. "When they came back their shoes were covered in blood."