JEWISH prisoners had to unload decomposed corpses at the Nazi death camp at Sobibor and were forbidden to warn new prisoners that they would be gassed within the hour, a survivor testified yesterday at the trial of John Demjanjuk.
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, an 89-year-old retired Ohio autoworker, is accused of serving as a low-level guard at the Nazi camp in occupied Poland and is charged with accessory to murder in 27,900 deaths. Demjanjuk rejects the charges, saying he never served in Sobibor or any other Nazi camp.
Sobibor survivor Philip Bialowitz told the Munich state court that Jews being brought from western Europe largely believed the Nazi ruse that they were being resettled.
The 84-year-old testified that he and other Jewish prisoners helped unload the trains, under the watch of German SS and Ukrainian guards.
"When I helped the Jewish passengers with their bags, some of them offered me a tip," said Mr Bialowitz, who was born in Poland and now lives in New York.
"My heart was bleeding because I knew that they would be dead in less than an hour and I couldn't warn them." Mr Bialowitz was the second Sobibor survivor to testify this week.
Though neither he nor the other witness, Thomas Blatt, remember Demjanjuk from the camp, their testimony aims to give the court a general idea about how the camp operated.
Mr Bialowitz, who was in Sobibor for six months before escaping amid a prisoner revolt in October 1943, told the court that one train arrived with most aboard dead or deranged with hunger.
He testified that German officers and Ukrainian guards shot some of those prisoners who were barely alive after they came off the train, while he and other Jewish prisoners had to unload partially decomposed corpses. "I tried to pull a dead woman from the train but her skin came away in my hands," Mr Bialowitz testified.
Demjanjuk showed no reaction to the testimony, lying on a bed with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.
Demjanjuk -- who suffers from several medical problems -- has been declared fit to face trial, so long as court sessions are limited to two 90-minute sessions per day.
The trial's afternoon session was cut short when the court doctor said Demjanjuk was not well enough to continue.
Afterwards, Mr Bialowitz said: "He (Demjanjuk) didn't come to Sobibor for a vacation -- he came to help in the destruction of the Jewish people."
However, Demjanjuk's son called into question Mr Bialowitz's testimony, given that he could not remember his father. "Over the past 30 years of investigations regarding Sobibor, not one Jewish labourer who has testified ... could identify my father," John Demjanjuk Jr said.
The trial resumes on February 2.