Suspected Nazi Guard is Deported
The last major criminal suspect from World War II was set to arrive in Germany today, ending a roller-coaster odyssey that began when American Nazi hunters first set their sights on the retired autoworker from suburban Cleveland 32 years ago.
John Demjanjuk, 89, whose family argued he was too ill to travel, was taken from his home by ambulance Monday. He was later carried in a wheelchair onto a waiting jet by immigration officials. The German government has said it will hold Demjanjuk in a prison medical unit in Munich to await trial on 29,000 counts of murder for deaths while he was allegedly a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
"In terms of big fish ... he is just about the biggest one out there," said Jonathan Drimmer, a former deputy director of the federal Office of Special Investigations, which has won convictions of 107 war criminals.
Demjanjuk (pronounced dem-YAHN-yuk) says he is innocent. He says he was held by the Germans as a Soviet prisoner of war and was never a camp guard.
Monday's deportation was the second for Demjanjuk, who was first tried in federal court in 1981 as "Ivan the Terrible," who ran the gas chamber at the Treblinka camp in Poland. He was extradited to Israel and sentenced to death before the Israeli Supreme Court found there was reasonable doubt whether Demjanjuk was indeed the notorious Ivan. He was returned to the United States in 1993.
By then, Soviet documents linking him to other death camps had surfaced. Years of legal wrangling followed. The Ukrainian native, who came to the United States in 1952, lost his citizenship a second time.
Demjanjuk lost an appeal Thursday before the Supreme Court. On Monday, he said goodbye to his wife, children and grandchildren and prayed with two priests at his home in Seven Hills, Ohio.
"I just said, take your prayer book, a Bible and an icon," said John Nakonachny, pastor of St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Parma. "That's what you need to find strength in this ongoing battle with evil."
Nakonachny said he was "disappointed in our own government" for prosecuting an innocent man. "He suffers a lot of pain," he said. "But in spirit, he is very strong."
John Demjanjuk Jr. told the Associated Press he will keep fighting for his father. "This is inhuman, even if the courts have said it is lawful," he said.
Fred Taub, who heads a Jewish youth group in Cleveland and first led protests against Demjanjuk in 1977, welcomed his departure.
"I am happy that this great nation will no longer harbor a Nazi," he said. "It's about time that he was gone."