Suspected Nazi prison camp guard deported to Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.05.2009
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Suspected Nazi prison camp guard deported to Germany

The US has deported an alleged former Nazi prison camp guard to Germany. Jewish leaders hailed John Demjanjuk's deportation, saying they hoped it wasn't too late for the 89-year-old to be brought to justice.

John Demjanjuk in court

Demjanjuk had been fighting deportation for years

The suspected war criminal arrived in Munich on Tuesday morning after being put on a charter flight in Cleveland, Ohio.

German prosecutors accuse Demjanjuk of at least 29,000 counts of accessory to murder dating back to 1943 when he worked as prison guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Upon arrival in Germany, Demjanjuk was taken to Stadelheim prison. If no new evidence surfaces, he will be formally charged "within weeks," the prosecution said.

"Now, finally, Mr. Demjanjuk has been held accountable in one small way for his part in one of the most horrific chapters in history," US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said.

John Demjanjuk being loaded onto an airplane

Demjanjuk was sent to Germany Monday evening

Demjanjuk has consistently protested his innocence, claiming he was a Red Army soldier, who was captured by the Germans and held in a prison camp until the end of the war.

Jewish leaders want justice

Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said she hoped that Demjanjuk's trial would begin as quickly as possible.

"It is not about revenge, but about justice," she said. "All living Nazi war criminals should know that there can be no mercy for them, regardless of their age. They must be held responsible for their inhuman actions."

Demjanjuk tops the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of the 10 most-wanted suspected war criminals. The Wiesenthal Center says Demjanjuk pushed men, women and children into gas chambers.

Despite his age, he "deserves to be punished for the unspeakable crimes he committed," Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Center said.

Appeal process exhausted

On Thursday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear Demjanjuk's appeal, clearing the way for his deportation and putting an end to nearly three decades of legal wrangling.

US investigators have collected witness testimony describing his activities at the camp. But for German prosecutors, the key to trying Demjanjuk will be establishing that he is physically and mentally able to withstand the travails of a trial.

Demjanjuk suffers from various physical ailments and had claimed that he was not fit to travel. US Nazi hunters, however, videotaped him walking to his car unaided.

John Demjanjuk walking to a car

Demjanjuk was filmed walking unaided after claiming he was too ill to travel

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk allegedly worked as a prison guard at Sobibor from March to September 1943. After World War II, he spent a brief period of time in Bavaria as a refugee. He changed his name from Ivan to John and in 1952 moved to the United States, where he lived an innocuous life as an auto mechanic in Cleveland, Ohio.

After witnesses identified him as the notorious camp guard nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible" he was deported to Israel in 1986 and sentenced to death in 1988. His sentence was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993 when another man was identified as "Ivan the Terrible."

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