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U.S. takes step to deport suspected Nazi guard

* Travel documents sought from Germany for Demjanjuk

* Demjanjuk's son said pursuit is pointless

CINCINNATI, March 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. government said on Tuesday it has sought travel documents to deport 88-year-old U.S. resident John Demjanjuk to Germany to face charges he helped murder at least 29,000 Jews as a Nazi death camp guard.

The travel documents are one of the last steps required to deport the ailing Demjanjuk, who lives with his wife in a Cleveland, Ohio, suburb.

Germany issued an arrest warrant for the retired auto worker two weeks ago, the culmination of years of legal proceedings that have attempted to link Demjanjuk with World War Two atrocities.

"Following an order by a U.S. immigration judge to deport John Demjanjuk and receipt of a warrant to arrest Demjanjuk, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contacted the government of Germany to secure travel documents to effectuate his removal," Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Walls said in a statement.

Prosecutors in Munich have accused Demjanjuk of being an accessory in the killings of Jews between March and September 1943 at the Sobibor death camp, now in Poland.

Born in Ukraine, Demjanjuk denies any involvement in war crimes. He has said he was in the Soviet army and a prisoner of war in 1942. He later went to the United States.

Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said his father remained at his home near Cleveland, suffering from a bone disease, kidney failure and other ailments, and would likely die before the case is resolved.

"He was treated in the emergency room just last week for kidney-related issues. He is not likely to survive another trial," John Demjanjuk Jr. said.

'HE NEVER ASSISTED IN ONE MURDER' - SON

Demjanjuk 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. Demjanjuk was first extradited to Israel in 1986.

He was sentenced to death in 1988 after Holocaust survivors identified him as a guard at Treblinka. But the Israeli Supreme Court overturned his conviction when new evidence showed another man was probably "Ivan."

Demjanjuk returned to his home near Cleveland in 1993 and U.S. courts restored his citizenship in 1998.

The U.S. Justice Department refiled its case against him in 1999, arguing he had worked for the Nazis as a guard at three other death camps and hid these facts when he immigrated.

His U.S. citizenship was stripped for a second time in 2002, but authorities did not deport him because no country would take him.

Last year, Germany's chief Nazi war crimes investigator, Kurt Schrimm, asked prosecutors in Munich, where Demjanjuk lived before he emigrated to the United States, to charge him with involvement in the murder of 29,000 Jews.

Schrimm said his office had evidence Demjanjuk had been a guard at the Sobibor death camp and personally led Jews to the gas chambers there.

But Demjanjuk's son said the case leads nowhere.

"He has never assisted in one murder, let alone thousands," he said.

"Given the history of Germany wounding, capturing and then removing my father from his homeland Ukraine in World War Two, it seems inconceivable that they would now seek to have him removed from his home again more than 60 years later," his son said in an e-mailed statement.

"The U.S. government just wants him out and the Germans don't really know what they are getting."

Josias Kumpf, 83, a former Nazi concentration camp guard living in Wisconsin, was deported to Austria last week by U.S. authorities. He was freed days later by Austria, which had warned it could not prosecute him.

The Austrian justice ministry said the statute of limitations had expired in the case of Kumpf, who admitted participating in a 1943 massacre of 8,000 Jews. The main reason cited was that Kumpf was younger than 20 at the time. (Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago and Jim Vicini in Washington)

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