MUNICH – John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio autoworker deported to Germany, was set to arrive Tuesday to face a warrant accusing him of being a guard at a Nazi death camp where 29,000 Jews and others were killed.
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk says he was a Red Army soldier who was captured by the Nazis, spent the rest of the war as their prisoner and never hurt anyone.
There are Nazi-era documents that suggest otherwise — including a photo ID identifying Demjanjuk as a guard at the Sobibor death camp and saying he was trained at an SS facility for Nazi guards at Trawniki. Both sites were in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Still, the key to the 89-year-old Demjanjuk’s fate may not lie with the evidence but rather on a German court’s decision about whether he is medically fit to stand trial. In any case, Demjanjuk, who has been without a country since the U.S. stripped him of his citizenship in 2002, is likely to spend the rest of his life in Germany, either in jail or in a home for the elderly.
One of his German lawyers, Guenter Maull, told AP Television News on Monday that after the plane carrying him from Cleveland, Ohio, to Munich lands, he will be taken to the Stadelheim prison and meet a judge who will read the lengthy arrest warrant.
“As far as I know the warrant is 21 pages long,” Maull said.
Demjanjuk is not expected to say anything.
“On the issues of him saying something or not, 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,” Maull said.
As for his health, a doctor will examine Demjanjuk and a decision will be taken as to whether he should remain at Stadelheim or be sent to an area hospital.
“If he is sick they first have to try to cure him. If he is incurably sick they have to find a place for him to live,” Maull said, adding that were Demjanjuk to be deemed unfit for trial, it is likely the German government would have to pick up the cost for his care.
Dramatic photos last month showed Demjanjuk (pronounced dem-YAHN’-yuk) wincing in apparent pain as he was removed by immigration agents from his home in Seven Hills, Ohio. However, images taken only days earlier and released by the U.S. government showed him entering his car unaided outside a medical office.
Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said Monday that his father is dying of leukemic bone marrow disease.
“It is not a question if he is sick but how sick he is, there are enough diagnoses confirming his illness, the only question is how fast his sickness is progressing,” Maull told AP Television News.
On Monday evening, Demjanjuk arrived in an ambulance at Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport after spending several hours with U.S. immigration officials at a downtown federal building. He was carried in a wheelchair onto a jet that departed for Germany.
The deportation came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Demjanjuk’s request to block deportation and about 3 1/2 years after he was last ordered deported.
Earlier Monday, John Demjanjuk Jr. said an appeal in a U.S. court would go ahead even if his father isn’t in the country.
“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,” Demjanjuk Jr. said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, a founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Demjanjuk deserves to be punished and that this will probably be the last trial of someone accused of Nazi war crimes.
“His work at the Sobibor death camp was to push men, women and children into the gas chamber,” Hier said in a statement. “He had no mercy, no pity and no remorse for the families whose lives he was destroying.”
The center was established to locate and help bring to justice Nazi war criminals.
Throughout three decades of court action in the U.S. and Israel, Demjanjuk has insisted he was an innocent victim.
Among the documents obtained by the Munich prosecutors is an SS identity card that features a photo of a young, round-faced Demjanjuk along with his height and weight, and says he worked at Sobibor.
German prosecutors also have a transfer roster that lists Demjanjuk by his name and birthday and also says he was at Sobibor, and statements from former guards who remembered him being there.
The case dates to 1977 when the Justice Department moved to revoke Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship, alleging he hid his past as a Nazi death camp guard.
Demjanjuk had been tried in Israel after accusations surfaced that he was the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. He was found guilty in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a conviction overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.
A U.S. judge revoked his citizenship in 2002 based on U.S. Justice Department evidence showing he concealed his service at Sobibor and other Nazi-run death and forced-labor camps.
An immigration judge ruled in 2005 he could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine. Munich prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him in March.