Former Nazi death camp guard arrives in Germany

13th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

After losing a months-long fight against deportation, John Demjanjuk landed in a specially-chartered plane at an isolated area of Munich airport Tuesday where he was met by officials from the state prosecutor's office.

Munich -- An 89-year-old former Nazi death camp guard arrived in Germany Tuesday after being deported from the United States to face the prospect of a trial for war crimes over the killing of 29,000 Jews.

After losing a months-long fight against deportation, John Demjanjuk landed in a specially-chartered plane at an isolated area of Munich airport where he was met by officials from the state prosecutor's office.

Germany issued a warrant for Demjanjuk arrest on March 11 on charges of helping to murder 29,000 Jews during his time as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

According to German television, Demjanjuk was accompanied off the plane by a doctor and a priest who had flown with him on the overnight flight from Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport.

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who his family says is seriously ill, was expected to have the charges against him read out on his arrival and then be transferred to nearby Stadelheim prison -- the same prison where Nazi leader Adolf Hitler served a month-long sentence in 1922 for disturbing the peace.

Demjanjuk is right at the top of Nazi hunters' most-wanted list, and was sentenced to death by an Israeli court two decades ago, suspected of being the feared death camp guard nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible" who would hack at naked prisoners with a sword.

That verdict was overturned in 1993 when statements from former guards identified another man as "Ivan the Terrible". Demjanjuk has always insisted he was forced to work for the Nazis and has been mistaken by survivors for other cruel guards.

German television reported that a survivor of the Sobibor camp, where he was a guard in 1943, could help confirm his identity.

This witness, 82-year-old Thomas Blatt, has described the conditions at Sobibor akin to a death factory.

"They abused us. They shot new arrivals who were old and sick and could not go on. And there were some who pushed naked people into the gas chambers with bayonets," Blatt told the latest edition of Spiegel magazine.

"Sobibor was a factory. Only a few hours passed between arrival and the burning of a body."

Demjanjuk's relatives however say there is nothing to tie him to any deaths at the camp.

"Given the history of this case and not a shred of evidence that he ever hurt one person let alone murdered anyone anywhere, this is inhuman even if the courts have said it is lawful," his son John wrote on Monday.

"This is not justice, it is a vendetta in the falsified name of justice with the hope that somehow Germany will atone for its past."

His family had argued that flying the wheelchair-bound octogenarian to Germany with, they said, kidney disease and blood disorders, would cause him pain amounting to torture. He was expected to undergo medical tests in prison.

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre noted that if Demjanjuk comes to trial it "will probably be the last trial of a Nazi war criminal."

However, Kurt Schrimm, director of the Central Investigation Centre for Nazi Crimes, told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung in an interview to appear Wednesday: "We still have a lot ahead of us this year. There are similar cases to that of Mr Demjanjuk."

The president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, said it was imperative that authorities now move swiftly.

"Now it is time to do everything legally possible to bring Demjanjuk before a court. This is a race against time," she said in a statement.

"This is not about revenge but rather about justice for those crimes of which the Munich prosecutor's office accuses (Demjanjuk)."

Demjanjuk was suspect number three in the latest report by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre on Nazi war criminals behind two others thought already dead.

His deportation marked the end of months of legal wrangling which culminated in an appeal to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear his case.

Blatt said the German trial could have a cathartic effect for survivors.

"I do not care whether he goes to prison or not. It is the trial that is important to me. I want the truth. People need to know what it was like at Sobibor," he said.

Top 10 most wanted Nazi war crime suspects

Following John Demjanjuk's deportation to Germany to face charges of assisting in the death of at least 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp during World War II, here is a list of the most-wanted Nazi war crime suspects and their alleged crimes, according to the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre (SWC):

1) Alois Brunner: Austrian-born henchman of Adolf Eichmann, Brunner was accused of being responsible for sending over 100,000 Jews to death camps. Born in 1912, the SWC said the chances of his being alive are "relatively slim" but "until conclusive evidence of his demise is obtained, he should still be mentioned on any Most Wanted List of Holocaust perpetrators."

2) Aribert Heim: So-called Doctor Death and "Butcher of Mauthausen", Heim was accused of performing operations without anaesthetics and injecting petrol directly into victims' hearts. German public television channel ZDF and the New York Times reported in February that Heim died of bowel cancer in 1992, citing his son and acquaintances in Cairo but no body has been found.

3) John Demjanjuk: Born in Ukraine and living in the United States since 1952 but stripped of US citizenship, Demjanjuk is charged by a German court of assisting in the death of at least 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp. He arrived in Germany Tuesday.

4) Sandor Kepiro: Hungarian gendarmerie officer who is accused of participating in the mass murder of over 1,200 civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia.

5) Milivoj Asner: A police chief in Croatia, he played an "active role in persecution and deportation to death of hundreds of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies," according to the SWC.

6) Soeren Kam: Accused of participating in the murder of anti-Nazi Danish newspaper editor Carl Henrik Clemmensen. Also alleged to have stolen the population registry of the Danish Jewish community to facilitate the roundup and subsequent deportation of Danish Jews to Nazi concentration camps, where dozens were murdered.

7) Klaas Carl Faber: Sentenced to death in 1944 in the Netherlands for murdering prisoners in the Westerbork transit camp, his sentence was commuted to a life imprisonment in 1948 and he later escaped from prison and fled to Germany in 1952.

8) Heinrich Boere: Allegedly murdered three Dutch civilians as a member of the Silbertanne Waffen-SS death squad.

9) Karoly (Charles) Zentai: Accused of participating in the murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944.

10) Mikhail Gorshkow: Accused of participating in the murder of Jews in Belarus.

Ralf Isermann/AFP/Expatica

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