SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

Demjanjuk vows to fight death camp charges

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.

Demjanjuk vows to fight death camp charges
Photo: DPA

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CRIME

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

Josef S. was found guilty of being an accessory to murder while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945, presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.

But prosecutors said he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the camp and called for him to be punished with five years behind bars.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Prosecutors said the man had aided and abetted the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

He was 21 years old at the time.

Contradictory statements

During the trial, S. made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up”.

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural labourer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, the man was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.

He remained at liberty during the trial, which began in 2021 but has been delayed several times because of his health.

Despite his conviction, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars, given his age.

His lawyer Stefan Waterkamp told AFP ahead of the verdict that if found guilty, he would appeal.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

By David COURBET

SHOW COMMENTS