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Demjanjuk vows to fight death camp charges

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Demjanjuk vows to fight death camp charges
Photo: DPA
17:39 CEST+02:00
An 89-year-old former Nazi death camp guard, John Demjanjuk, arrived in Germany on Tuesday after his deportation from the United States, vowing to fight charges that he assisted in the murder of over 29,000 Jews.

After losing a months-long battle to stay in the United States, 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.

Photos showed Demjanjuk - who his family says suffers from kidney disease and blood disorders - lying down with tubes in his nostrils, dressed in a leather jacket and a baseball cap. Doctors accompanying him on the overnight flight from Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport said he slept for most of the journey, according to prosecutors.

Germany issued a warrant for Demjanjuk's 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.

However, Demjanjuk's lawyer, Ulrich Busch, said his client denied that he was in Sobibor. "But even if he had been there, he should still be acquitted. He comes from Ukraine and would have been a so-called foreign guard" forced into service by the Nazis,” Busch added.

Courts in both Israel and the United States have previously stated he was a guard at Sobibor, charges he had never previously challenged.

Demjanjuk was transferred upon arrival to nearby Stadelheim prison – the same prison Adolf Hitler served a month-long sentence in 1922 for disturbing the peace. “If he is deemed fit, he will have the 21-page charge sheet read to him on Tuesday and if no new evidence surfaces, he will be formally charged "within weeks," the prosecution said.

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."

German television reported that a survivor of the Sobibor camp could help confirm Demjanjuk's identity. The 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."

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

However, Kurt Schrimm, director of the Central Investigation Centre for Nazi Crimes, told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung: "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, called for authorities to 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 Simon Wiesenthal Centre's latest report on Nazi war criminals behind two others thought already dead. His deportation marked the end of months of legal wrangling, culminating in an appeal to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear his case.

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