MUNICH — German prosecutors formally charged John Demjanjuk today with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp during World War II.
The charges against the 89-year-old retired auto worker, who was deported from his Ohio home in May, were filed at a Munich state court, prosecutors in the city said in a brief statement.
Doctors cleared the way for formal charges earlier this month, determining that Demjanjuk was fit to stand trial so long as court hearings do not exceed two 90-minute sessions per day.
The court must now decide whether to accept the charges — usually a formality — and set a date for the trial. Court spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel said the trial was unlikely to start before the autumn.
Demjanjuk lawyer Guenther Maull had no immediate comment on the charges, saying he had not yet seen them. Demjanjuk’s son described them as “a farce.”
Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison in Germany.
Prosecutors accuse Demjanjuk of serving as a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
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 Nazi-era documents obtained by U.S. justice authorities and shared with German prosecutors include 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, also in Nazi-occupied Poland. U.S. and German experts have declared the ID genuine.
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Justice Department moved to revoke the citizenship in 1977, alleging he hid his past as a Nazi death camp guard, and it was revoked in 1981.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 tried in Israel over 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. However, 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. 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.
Demjanjuk’s son vowed that, “as long as my father remains alive, we will defend his innocence as he has never hurt anyone anywhere.”
Prosecutors “have hurried to justify the deportation and the violation of his legal and human rights with sensational charges but it is all a farce and could never withstand the test of litigation,” John Demjanjuk Jr. wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, welcomed the filing of formal charges.
“This is obviously an important step forward,” Zuroff said by telephone from Jerusalem. “We hope that the trial itself will be expedited so that justice will be achieved and he can be given the appropriate punishment.”
“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,” Zuroff said.
Timeline: Key dates in the case of John Demjanjuk
- 1920: Born in Ukraine.
- 1942: Captured by German forces while serving in the Soviet Red Army.
- 1952: Demjanjuk emigrates to United States, claims to have spent much of World War II in a German prisoner of war camp. Gains U.S. citizenship in 1958.
- 1977: Justice Department seeks to revoke U.S. citizenship, alleging Demjanjuk hid past as Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible.”
- 1981: Citizenship revoked.
- 1986: Extradited to Israel for trial over his alleged role at Treblinka.
- 1988: Demjanjuk sentenced to death after being found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
- 1993: Israel’s Supreme Court rules 5-0 that Demjanjuk was not “Ivan the Terrible.”
- 1998: Regains U.S. citizenship.
- 1999: U.S. Justice Dept. files civil complaint against Demjanjuk claiming he served as a guard at the Sobibor and Majdanek camps in occupied Poland and of being a member of an SS unit.
- 2002: Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship stripped for second time.
- 2005: U.S. immigration judge says Demjanjuk can be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine.
- March 11, 2009: German prosecutors issue arrest against Demjanjuk accusing of 29,000 counts of accessory to murder and say they will seek deportation from U.S.
- March 24, 2009: U.S. officials confirm they’ve asked Germany for travel documents needed to deport Demjanjuk.
- April 14, 2009: Immigration officers remove Demjanjuk from his home to federal custody in Cleveland; 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals grants emergency stay of deportation and federal immigration authorities release Demjanjuk from custody.
- May 1, 2009: 6th Circuit revokes emergency stay, denies additional stay of deportation.
- May 7, 2009: U.S. Supreme Court judge decides not to hear Demjanjuk’s appeal, clearing way for deportation to Germany.
- May 8, 2009: Immigration officials serve Demjanjuk notice to surrender.
- May 11, 2009: Berlin court rejects appeal seeking to stop deportation; Demjanjuk leaves home by ambulance and is deported to Germany from a Cleveland airport.
- May 12, 2009: Demjanjuk arrives in Munich and is transferred to Stadelheim prison where a judge reads his arrest warrant.
- July 3, 2009: Demjanjuk deemed fit to stand trial though his time in court must not exceed two 90-minute sessions daily.
- July 13, 2009: Prosecutors formally charge Demjanjuk with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder.