Accused Nazi guard arrives in Germany to face charges

MUNICH, Germany Tue May 12, 2009 1:48pm EDT

1 of 8. Suspected Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, 89, is taken from an ambulance and placed on a jet at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio May 11, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Ron Kuntz

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MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk arrived from the United States on Tuesday to face charges he helped kill 29,000 Jews in 1943, and what is likely to be Germany's last major Nazi trial.

Police cars and ambulances surrounded his plane when it landed at Munich airport in southern Germany. After a medical examination the 89-year-old was whisked off to Stadelheim jail, where Hitler was held after a failed 1922 coup attempt.

Pictures showed Demjanjuk lying in an ambulance wearing a baseball cap, with tubes coming out of his nose.

Demjanjuk tops the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of its 10 most-wanted suspected war criminals. Munich prosecutors want him tried for assisting in the murders at Sobibor extermination camp, in what is now Poland.

The Wiesenthal Center says Demjanjuk pushed men, women and children into gas chambers.

Germany's Central Council of Jews welcomed the deportation.

"All living Nazi war criminals should know there can be no mercy for them, regardless of their age," said the Council's President Charlotte Knobloch in a statement.

Demjanjuk, born in Ukraine, has denied any role in the Holocaust and a court could decide he is unfit to stand trial.

His lawyer said he was in a wheelchair and that an investigating judge had read Demjanjuk the 21-page warrant.

"He has been provided with oxygen and he is conscious. He says he has understood what he is being accused of in the arrest warrant," lawyer Guenther Maull told reporters.

More than 60 years after World War Two, there is little appetite for a new Nazi trial among Germans. Many feel a duty to pursue Nazi perpetrators, but there is also a desire, especially among the young, to draw a line under the past.

HISTORIC MOMENT

The transfer marks the end of a long legal battle for the retired U.S. auto worker.

"The removal ... of John Demjanjuk is a historic moment in the federal government's efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice," said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer.

Munich prosecutors plan to charge him in a few weeks. They said a medical expert had been asked to assess his fitness to stand trial.

Historians detect a fatigue among Germans with the Nazi era.

"For what theologians call catharsis, this Demjanjuk trial comes too late, people just think 'Aha, they have caught another one of these swines'," said Hans-Ulrich Wehler, history professor emeritus at Bielefeld University.

"Demjanjuk seems like a ghost from the past," he added.

The Wiesenthal Center says far fewer criminals have been brought to justice than were involved in the Holocaust.

Demjanjuk has said he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1941, became a German prisoner of war and later became a guard in German prison camps until 1944.

He was stripped of his U.S. citizenship after he was accused in the 1970s of being "Ivan the Terrible," a notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp.

He was extradited to Israel in 1986 and sentenced to death in 1988, but Israel's Supreme Court overturned his conviction when new evidence showed another man was probably "Ivan."

He regained his citizenship in 1998, but the U.S. Justice Department refilled its case against him in 1999, arguing he had worked for the Nazis as a guard at three other death camps. His citizenship was stripped from him again in 2002.

(Additional reporting by Paul Carrel, Sarah Marsh, Brian Rohan; writing by Madeline Chambers; editing by Andrew Roche)

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