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Alleged Nazi in German prison on charges

Retired auto worker John Demjanjuk listened silently Tuesday as a German judge read a 21-page warrant accusing him of acting as an accessory to the murder of 29,000 people at a Nazi death camp.
Germany Demjanjuk
A man believed to be suspected Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk is seen inside an ambulance as it arrives at the Stadelheim prison in Munich, Germany, on Tuesday. Uwe Lein / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sitting in a wheelchair and breathing through a nasal tube, retired auto worker John Demjanjuk listened silently Tuesday as a German judge read a 21-page warrant accusing him of acting as an accessory to the murder of 29,000 people at a Nazi death camp.

Prosecutors in Munich made clear they hope to press ahead quickly with the case against the 89-year-old, saying after the longtime Ohio resident arrived in Germany that formal charges could be filed within weeks.

Demjanjuk said nothing as an interpreter translated the warrant into his native Ukrainian, his lawyer Guenther Maull told reporters afterward.

"He understood what was being read to him," said Maull, who immediately filed a challenge against the warrant, arguing the evidence was not solid and Germany's jurisdiction questionable.

Demjanjuk says he was a Red Army soldier who spent World War II as a Nazi POW and never hurt anyone.

But Nazi-era documents obtained by U.S. justice authorities and shared with German prosecutors include a photo ID identifying Demjanjuk as a guard at the Sobibor death camp and saying he was trained at an SS facility for Nazi guards at Trawniki. Both sites were in Nazi-occupied Poland.

'Accusation of monstrous crimes'
Efforts to prosecute Demjanjuk began in 1977 and have involved courts and government officials from at least five countries on three continents.

Sobibor survivor Samuel Lerer, who was 16 when he arrived at the camp in the spring of 1942, welcomed Demjanjuk's deportation.

"My sense of justice is that he go on trial," Lerer told The Associated Press from his Greenbriar, New Jersey home.

"This is about being an accessory to murder in 29,000 cases. That is an accusation of monstrous crimes. At all times, we owe it the victims to clear it up," Bavaria's state justice minister, Beate Merk, said. "Above all in Germany, we have a very special responsibility."

Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison in Germany.

Weighing charges
Prosecutors said formally pressing charges could happen "within a few weeks" providing "no exonerating arguments are made." That would be fast, as it can take months under Germany's justice system for charges to be pressed.

A key step lies ahead: determining whether Demjanjuk is fit to stand trial. Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said Monday his father is dying of leukemic bone marrow disease and claimed he would not survive a trans-Atlantic flight.

Dramatic photos last month showed Demjanjuk wincing in apparent pain as he was removed by immigration agents from his home in Seven Hills, Ohio, during an earlier attempt to deport him to Germany. However, images taken only days earlier and released by the U.S. government showed him entering his car unaided.

Anton Winkler, a spokesman for Munich prosecutors, said they had called for an expert opinion. He said it could take up to two weeks for that determination to be made, because a doctor would have to examine Demjanjuk and observe him over time.

He indicated that Demjanjuk's health was satisfactory on arrival, according to a doctor who examined him. Demjanjuk understood what was being said to him and answered "yes" and "no" in German, Winkler said.

Merk said despite health concerns, the issue centered on justice.

"Murder does not fall under the statute of limitations, regardless of the perpetrator's age," she said. "If the accusations are true, a conviction and punishment are indispensable."

Earlier Tuesday, Demjanjuk — stripped of his citizenship by a U.S. court in 2002 — arrived in Munich from Cleveland aboard a private jet that taxied directly into a hangar. Munich prosecutors said he slept for most of the trans-Atlantic flight.

From the airport, he rode in a police-escorted ambulance to a special medical unit at Stadelheim prison, where Adolf Hitler spent several weeks in 1922 after being arrested.

Cleveland to Munich
The deportation came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Demjanjuk's request to block deportation.

Among the documents obtained by the Munich prosecutors is an SS identity card that features a photo of a young, round-faced Demjanjuk along with his height and weight, and says he worked at Sobibor.

German prosecutors also have a transfer roster for Sobibor that lists Demjanjuk by name and birthday and puts him at the camp, and statements from former guards who remembered him being there.

The U.S. Justice Department first moved to revoke Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship in 1977, alleging he hid his past as a Nazi death camp guard.

Demjanjuk was tried in Israel after accusations surfaced that he was the notorious "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. He was found guilty in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity but the conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.

That decision came after Israel won access to Soviet archives, which had depositions given after the war by 37 Treblinka guards and forced laborers who said "Ivan" was a different Ukrainian named Ivan Marchenko.

However, a U.S. judge revoked Demjanjuk's citizenship in again in 2002 based on fresh Justice Department evidence showing he concealed his service at Sobibor and other Nazi-run death and forced-labor camps from immigration officials.

A U.S. immigration judge ruled in 2005 he could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine. Munich prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him in March.

'Race against time'
Bringing alleged Nazi war criminals to trial more than six decades since the end of World War II is proving increasingly difficult: Many witnesses are dead or ailing, and time has clouded memory.

"It is a race against time," Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and Germany's main Jewish leader, said in a statement.

"For survivors of the Shoah, it is intolerable to watch how a suspected Nazi war criminal, who knew no mercy for his victims, seeks sympathy and compares his deportation to torture," she said, using the Hebrew term for Holocaust.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center had listed Demjanjuk as its No. 1 wanted Nazi.

"I think it is important that people, when they look at Demjanjuk, not really see him as an elderly person, but think of the young man who in his prime invested all his energy and efforts in the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children," said Efraim Zuroff, the center's Jerusalem-based top Nazi hunter.

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