August 05, 2009

I'll bring Nazi to justice

The ID card for hell: This document allowed John
Demjanjuk into his training camp in Trawniki in Poland

Kurt Gutmann was only a boy when he was spirited away from the horrors of Sobibor to seek refuge among kind strangers in Scotland. His mother and brother were among those left behind, soon to become victims of an atrocity that would claim tens of thousands of lives.

But more than seven decades after his escape aboard the Kindertransport, Mr Gutmann is to realise his life's ambition by testifying in one of the last Nazi war criminal trials.

The German Jew, who went on to fight alongside the Black Watch in his occupied homeland, has been chosen as one of eight co-plaintiffs who will take the stand against John Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor extermination camp. There, it is alleged, Demjanjuk helped to preside over the murders of 27,900 people.

The 89-year-old was extradited from the US earlier this year after a legal battle that lasted decades. He continues to deny the charges, claiming he spent much of the war as a PoW. Prosecutors in Munich, however, say they will present a wealth of evidence at October's trial, placing Ukraine-born Demjanjuk at the camp in occupied Poland.

For Mr Gutmann, the trial presents a final opportunity to find justice for those loved ones he parted from long ago.

"It is the last thing I wish for," said the 82-year-old, who has had three heart bypass operations. "Perhaps I don't have much more time. But I still want to experience one more thing – just punishment for John Demjanjuk. He and his cohorts killed my family. I despise the man because he was a willing accomplice to murder and later dreamed up all sorts of excuses about what he did. I want to look into those eyes and tell him what he took from me."

The former translator was not yet a teenager when he stood on the platform of Mühlheim railway station in Germany's industrial Ruhr on 23 June, 1939. It was the scene of his last farewell to mother, Jeanette, and elder brother Hans, 21. His father had died when he was just one.

Mr Gutmann said: "I remember my mother kissing me, wrapping me in her arms and then saying, 'Look after yourself, my son, and please try to get us over there'. They were the last words I ever heard from her. She got me away because I was under 16. The Nazis wouldn't let Hans go."

With no choice, the 12-year-old embarked on a journey made by about 10,000 Jewish children between 1938 and 1939. His other brother, Fritz, had travelled the same route and was by then at the Getrude Jacobson Orphanage in Scotland's largest city.

He recalls: "The Scottish people were so lovely to me. I had come from a country where I was a fifth-class citizen, kicked out of grammar school because I was a Jew, unable to sit on park benches, spat at in the street. These strangers took me to their hearts. I will forever be in their debt."

The teenager spent a year at the orphanage before moving to Annan in Dumfriesshire and then on to Skelmorlie in Ayrshire, where he lived for two years at a Jewish hostel, before returning to Glasgow. Around the same time, in 1942, it later emerged, Jeanette and Hans were transported from Germany to a labour camp called Izbica, near Lublin, Poland. Some time before the end of the year, both were murdered there.

Back in Scotland, Mr Gutmann, now 17, had volunteered as an infantryman with the Black Watch. He was based in Lockerbie, before going to Germany in 1945 as a member of the British forces. He later settled in Berlin.

Mr Gutmann, who this week visits Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen on holiday, acknowledges that this autumn's trial will be a test.

"It won't be easy," he said. "My wife thinks it might be too much. But I have to do this. I am doing it for my mother and brother. I want to see the last great criminal of that war get what he deserves."


1 comment:

Jamie The Antifascist said...

This guy has more balls & courage than anyone of us will ever have, I would definetly buy this dude a pint if ever saw him :)