MUNICH -- Retired auto worker John Demjanjuk was formally charged Monday with 27,900 counts of acting as an accessory to murder - one for every person who died at Sobibor during the time he is accused of serving as a guard at the Nazi death camp.
The charges by prosecutors a Munich state court are one of the
final steps before an expected autumn trial for the 89-year-old,
who has been fighting a variety of Nazi-era charges since 1977.
Demjanjuk and his family have argued that he is in poor health.
Photos taken in April showed him wincing in pain as immigration
agents removed him from his home in Seven Hills, Ohio, where he had
been living since 1993.
German doctors cleared the way for formal charges this month
when they declared that Demjanjuk was fit to stand
trial so long as court hearings do not exceed two 90-minute
sessions per day.
The state court must now decide whether to accept the charges -
usually a formality - and set a date for the trial.
Court spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel it was unlikely to start until the
The defendant's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., described the charges
as "a farce" in an e-mail to The Associated Press, writing that,
"as long as my father remains alive, we will defend his innocence
as he has never hurt anyone anywhere."
Demjanjuk's lawyer, Guenther Maull, said he had no immediate comment because had not
yet seen the charges.
Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, says he was a Red Army soldier
who spent the war as a prisoner of war and never hurt anyone.
But prosecutors accuse him of serving as a guard at the Sobibor
camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
Nazi-era documents obtained
by given to German prosecutors by U.S. authorities include a photo
ID identifying Demjanjuk as a guard at Sobibor and saying he was
trained at an SS facility for Nazi guards at Trawniki, Poland. U.S.
and German experts have declared the ID genuine.
"This is obviously an important step forward," Efraim Zuroff,
the top Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said by
telephone from Jerusalem.
"The effort to bring Demjanjuk to
justice sends a very powerful message that the passage of time in
no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrator."
Demjanjuk gained U.S. citizenship in 1958. The U.S. Justice
Department moved to revoke the citizenship in 1977, alleging he hid
his past as a Nazi death camp guard, and it was revoked in 1981.
Demjanjuk was deported to Israel and tried on accusations 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 but the conviction was overturned by the
Israeli Supreme Court.
That decision came after Israel won access to Soviet archives,
which had depositions given after the war by 37 Treblinka guards
and forced laborers who said "Ivan" was a different Ukrainian
named Ivan Marchenko.
Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship was restored in 1998.
A U.S. judge revoked it again in 2002 based on fresh Justice Department evidence
showing he concealed his service at Sobibor and other Nazi-run
death and forced-labor camps from immigration officials.
A U.S. immigration judge ruled in 2005 he could be deported to
Germany, Poland or Ukraine.
Munich prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him in March.
They accused him in that warrant of being an accessory to murder
in 29,000 cases, representing the number of people who arrived
there while he was alleged to be a camp guard based on his photo
However, that number was reduced in the charges because, of the
people transported to Sobibor, "many did not survive the
journey," said Anton Winkler, a spokesman for Munich prosecutors.
Approximately 250,000 Jews, Gypsies and political prisoners died
at Sobibor, which opened in 1942 and was razed a year and a half
Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum sentence of 15
years in prison in Germany.
Accused Nazi Demjanjuk Charged in 27,900 Deaths
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