Accused Nazi death camp executioner John Demjanjuk was ordered held for trial today on charges of crimes against humanity after issuing an emotional denial in an Israeli magistrate's court that he ever worked in the Treblinka extermination center in Poland during World War II.
"I'm completely the wrong person," said Demjanjuk, a retired Cleveland auto worker who was extradited to Israel last week after living for 25 years in the United States. Demjanjuk claimed that he was serving in the Soviet Army in 1942 when he was captured by the Germans and held in a prison camp.
While judge Aharon Simha outlined the crimes alleged, Demjanjuk listened expressionless to the translation into Ukrainian. At one point he yawned widely.
When Simha asked in Hebrew, through the interpreter, whether the defendant had anything to say, Demjanjuk replied in Ukrainian that he understood the death penalty would be applied upon conviction.
When Simha responded that capital punishment was not mandatory, Demjanjuk suddenly broke into English, saying, "I just want to tell you that, with what I'm hearing here, they bring me over here, they're prosecuting me over here . . . . I was never in that place what everybody tells me, Treblinka. I was myself in a prison camp of war."
Identifying Demanjuk from photographs and in person during extradition proceedings in the United States, Jewish survivors have charged that the 66-year-old Ukrainian immigrant was a guard called "Ivan the Terrible" by those at Treblinka, where 900,000 Jews perished between 1942 and 1943. They testified that he tortured victims before pushing them into gas chambers.
Demjanjuk entered the United States as a displaced person in 1952 and was naturalized six years later. The U.S. government began court proceedings in 1977 to revoke his citizenship on the ground that he had misrepresented himself.