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Demjanjuk's slow journey to Germany

By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Berlin

John Demjanjuk is helped on board the plane at Cleveland airport (11 May 2009)
Mr Demjanjuk was flown to Munich despite his attempts to evade trial

When images of the private jet landing at Munich airport were broadcast on German television on Tuesday morning, it was hard to believe that John Demjanjuk was really on board.

After numerous legal battles in the US and Germany, the Nazi war crimes suspect had tried to evade German prosecutors over the past few months.

His relatives argued that he was too ill and too old to travel. They even claimed that the deportation would cause him pain amounting to torture.

But on Tuesday morning, shortly after 0900 local time, Mr Demjanjuk finally arrived on German soil to face charges that he was an accessory to the murder of at least 29,000 Jews at the former death camp of Sobibor, in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Stretcher

A specially chartered Learjet carrying the 89-year-old war crimes suspect landed at Munich airport after he was deported from the US on Monday night.

His relatives shielded him from the cameras by holding up a sheet as he was taken from his home near Cleveland, Ohio, by US immigration officials.

A doctor and a priest accompanied him on the flight from the US to Munich.

With the world's media watching from a distance, Mr Demjanjuk was taken off the plane on a stretcher and he was driven in an ambulance to Munich's Stadelheim prison.

He is being held there in the prison's hospital wing.

Warrant

A spokesman for the Munich prosecutors' office, Anton Winkler, told the BBC that Mr Demjanjuk would probably undergo a medical test later on Tuesday to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

A reproduction of an identity card for John Demjanjuk, then known as Ivan, from 1948

A judge will then read out the 21-page arrest warrant to him in the presence of a translator.

"We have a large amount of evidence, including his Nazi identity card from Trawniki [an SS facility where camp guards were trained] and transfer orders showing that Mr Demjanjuk was assigned from Trawniki to the concentration camp at Sobibor, as well as witnesses," said Mr Winkler.

The German authorities issued an arrest warrant in March 2009, accusing the Ukrainian-born Mr Demjanjuk of being an accessory to the murder of at least 29,000 Jews while he was a guard at Sobibor, from 27 March 1943 until the end of September 1943.

The German authorities carried out forensic tests on the documents and, according to the prosecutors, they are authentic.

Demjanjuk's account

But the retired car worker has always maintained his innocence.


It is intolerable how a suspected Nazi war criminal, who knew no mercy for his victims, seeks sympathy

Charlotte Knobloch
Germany's Central Council of Jews

He claims that he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1940 and was captured by the Nazis in 1942.

He says he was then held as a prisoner-of-war until 1944, when he joined an anti-Soviet military unit funded by the German government.

However, German prosecutors argue that Mr Demjanjuk switched sides and worked as a concentration camp guard.

Mr Demjanjuk's lawyers say he will have the chance to respond to the arrest warrant, but it is likely he will remain silent.

"I will put pressure on him not to say anything, because we need to talk in peace first and digest everything that is in the arrest warrant," said Guenther Maull.

It is still not clear how long the medical test will take and prosecutors are unable to say when the trial will start.

Race against time

Jewish groups have welcomed the news of Mr Demjanjuk's arrival in Germany and they have urged the authorities to put him on trial as quickly as possibly.

Demjanjuk in 1988 in an Israeli court
Israel overturned Mr Demjanjuk's war crimes conviction in 1993

"It's a race against time," said Charlotte Knobloch, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews.

"For survivors of the Shoah [Holocaust], it is intolerable to see how a suspected Nazi war criminal, who knew no mercy for his victims, seeks sympathy and compares his deportation to torture."

It is not the first time that Mr Demjanjuk is facing a war crimes trial.

Back in 1988, he was convicted of war crimes in Israel, after being accused of being the notorious guard Ivan the Terrible at the extermination camp of Treblinka.

But the Israeli Supreme Court overturned Mr Demjanjuk's conviction in 1993, on the grounds of probable mistaken identity, and he returned to America, where he had been living since 1952.

The legal net tightened when the US authorities stripped him of his citizenship in 2002, saying he had worked at other concentration camps and that he had concealed this information when he originally emigrated to the US.

If Mr Demjanjuk is deemed fit enough to face the court here in Germany, this could be one of the country's last Nazi war crimes trials.

After a legal battle spanning three decades, the eyes of the world will be fixed on Stadelheim prison in Munich and prosecutors will be under growing pressure to bring the notorious Nazi suspect to trial.



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SEE ALSO
Demjanjuk loses deportation case
01 May 09 |  Americas
Profile: John Demjanjuk
30 Nov 09 |  Americas

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