Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk to be tried in Germany

14th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Prosecutors believe Demjanjuk helped herd tens of thousands of Jews and others into the gas chambers while a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

Berlin -- A German court said on Monday that 89-year-old former death camp guard John Demjanjuk will be tried for "complicity to murder" 27,900 people, in what could one of the last case of its kind.

Prosecutors believe the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk helped herd tens of thousands of Jews and others into the gas chambers while a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

Demjanjuk, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's number one suspect among Nazi guards known to be alive, was deported from the United States in May after losing a lengthy legal battle.

No date was set for the trial to begin, and the defendant's poor health means that he will be subjected to no more than two sessions of 90 minutes each day.

The octogenarian, who moved to the United States and worked as an auto mechanic in Ohio after World War II, suffers from kidney disease, arthritis and cancer, according to his family.

His son John Demjanjuk Jr. has said that German doctors had given his father about 16 months to live because of bone marrow disease.

Courts in Israel and the United States have previously stated he was a guard at Sobibor, accusations he had never previously challenged, but his lawyer now says he was never there.

Prosecutors also have an SS identity card with a photograph of a young man said to be Demjanjuk and written transcripts of witness testimony placing him at the camp.

Demjanjuk spent five years on death row in Israel before being acquitted in 1993 when the Jewish state's highest court overturned the verdict.

In that case, Demjanjuk was suspected of being "Ivan the Terrible," a particularly brutal camp guard who specialised in hacking at naked prisoners with a sword, but Israel established it had the wrong man.

Demjanjuk is stateless, having been stripped of his US citizenship for lying about his past. Munich prosecutors say it falls on the German city to try him because he had been registered as living there after World War II.

During months of legal wrangling that preceded his eventual deportation from his home in Cleveland, Ohio, the US Justice Department rejected the family's argument that he would not survive the flight to Germany.

It released four secretly filmed surveillance videos showing him apparently getting out of a car without difficulty.

This contrasted sharply with the scene before his deportation when federal agents carried him in a wheelchair, moaning and sobbing.

Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Centre office in Jerusalem, said he was "very happy that the court case is moving forward."

"The case is communicating a very important message that those guilty of war crimes can still be prosecuted even now and that they are just as guilty today as they were decades ago," Zuroff said.

Demjanjuk's trial is set to be one of the last in Germany to deal with the crimes of more than six decades ago.

On July 7, a German court declared an 88-year-old former Nazi SS soldier of Dutch origin well enough to stand trial for the murder of three Dutch resistance fighters, overturning an earlier decision.

Josef Scheungraber, 90, is on trial in Munich, charged with ordering the killings of 14 civilians in the Tuscan village of Falzano on June 26, 1944.

Timeline of attempts to bring Demjanjuk to justice:

-- April 3, 1920: Iwan Demjanjuk is born in Dubovi Makharyntsi, Ukraine.

-- 1952: Demjanjuk gains entry to the United States, claiming he spent much of World War II in a prisoner of war camp, and changes his first name to John.

-- 1977: Holocaust survivors identify Demjanjuk as "Ivan the Terrible," a notorious gas chamber operator at the Treblinka extermination camp during a US Department of Justice investigation.

-- 1981: Demjanjuk is stripped of his US citizenship after a federal court found him to be "Ivan the Terrible."

-- 1986: Demjanjuk is extradited to Israel, where he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death in 1988.

-- 1993: Israel's Supreme Court overturns his conviction after new evidence from KGB files in which Treblinka guards identified another man as Ivan the Terrible contradicts testimony from survivors.

-- 1998: Demjanjuk regains his US citizenship after an appeals court rules the government recklessly withheld exculpatory evidence.

-- 2002: Demjanjuk is again stripped of his citizenship after a judge rules there is proof he worked at several Nazi concentration camps.

-- 2005: An immigration judge rules that Demjanjuk can be deported but he remains in the United States as his case is caught up in numerous appeals and neither Ukraine, Poland or Germany appear willing to accept him.

-- 2008: US Supreme Court denies Demjanjuk's appeal of his deportation order.

-- March 11, 2009: A German court issues an arrest warrant for Demjanjuk. The US government soon moves to have him deported and Demjanjuk's lawyer files a series of emergency motions trying to block his deportation.

-- May 11, 2009: Demjanjuk is removed from his home on a stretcher and taken by private ambulance to the Cleveland, Ohio airport where he is loaded onto an overnight air ambulance flight to Munich.

-- May 12, 2009: Demjanjuk arrives in Munich and is immediately moved to Stadelheim prison, the same prison where Adolf Hitler served time in 1922 for disturbing the peace.

-- July 13, 2009: Court rules he can face trial for complicity in the murder of 27,900 Jews and others but does not set a date for the case to be heard.

Simon Sturdee/AFP/Expatica

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