Germany Jails Suspected Nazi Guard From U.S.

By Shannon Smiley
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

MUNICH, May 12 -- Alleged Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk was jailed here Tuesday after he was deported from the United States to face trial on charges that he helped murder 29,000 Jews and other prisoners during World War II.

Demjanjuk, 89, was fed a lunch of Bavarian meatloaf and mashed potatoes shortly after he landed in Munich on a chartered medical flight from Cleveland. In legal proceedings held in the airport hangar, a German judge formally read the allegations against Demjanjuk, described in a 21-page arrest warrant and translated into Ukrainian, his native language.

The retired autoworker, who had lived outside Cleveland for half a century after emigrating from Germany in 1952, was taken in an ambulance to Munich's Stadelheim prison, where he was to spend the night in the medical wing, a spokesman for the Munich prosecutor's office said.

Demjanjuk is scheduled to undergo further medical tests to determine whether he is fit to stand trial. His family and attorneys have asserted that he is seriously ill with leukemia and other ailments. They had challenged his deportation to Germany on grounds that he might not survive the trip.

If Demjanjuk is put on trial, it could mark Germany's last major war crimes case from World War II. Although prosecutors are pursuing other alleged former Nazis, most targets either vanished long ago or are now in their late 80s or 90s. Demjanjuk was listed as the world's most wanted Nazi criminal by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group based in Los Angeles.

German and U.S. prosecutors accuse him of serving as a guard at Sobibor, a Nazi concentration camp in German-occupied Poland, for six months in 1943. During that time, they said, 29,000 people were killed at the camp. Although there are no surviving witnesses who can testify against Demjanjuk, prosecutors said, German investigators have accumulated documents and other evidence to show that he worked at Sobibor.

"This is not about revenge, but rather justice," Stephan J. Kramer, general secretary for the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told N24 television news. "It is good and right that he has been deported and will stand in front of a court here."

"You often hear that these old men should be allowed to live and die in peace in their old age, and that the past is the past," said Siegfried Benker, a member of Munich's city council. "But what about the victims? They would have liked to have grown that old, too."

Demjanjuk's attorneys filed legal papers Tuesday in Munich challenging his arrest warrant as well as Germany's jurisdiction over the case. Demjanjuk has denied serving at Sobibor and has accused U.S. and German authorities of pursuing a vendetta against him.

He has successfully contested past efforts to prosecute him. In 1986, he was extradited from the United States to Israel, where he faced charges that he had been a Nazi guard known as "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka concentration camp.

He was convicted in Israel and sentenced to death. But he was freed in 1993 on appeal after evidence emerged that investigators had confused him with another Ukrainian guard at Treblinka.

The U.S. government had sought to deport Demjanjuk for years because it lacked the jurisdiction to try him. He became a naturalized citizen in 1958, but U.S. officials later stripped him of his citizenship, charging that he had covered up his Nazi past on his immigration forms.

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