Accused Nazi Demjanjuk Charged in Germany

John Demjanjuk is charged with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder.

PASSAU, Germany, July 13, 2009 — -- Prosecutors in Munich, Germany, formally charged 89-year-old John Demjanjuk today with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp during World War II.

Today's formal charges against Demjanjuk state that he helped the Nazis commit mass murder against thousands of Jews at Sobibor concentration camp in 1943, in what was then Nazi-occupied Poland, in his capacity as a Nazi-trained guard.

He was part of a group of about 5,000 foreigners helping the Nazis kill tens of thousands of Jews and other people at the camp, which was one of the Nazis' death camps in Eastern Europe, according to the allegations.

Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, welcomed the filing of formal charges.

"This is obviously an important step forward," Zuroff told the Associated Press. "We hope that the trial 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."

The charges against Demjanjuk, who was deported by U.S. Justice authorities two months ago, were filed with the Bavarian state court in Munich.

A trial date has yet to be announced but Bavarian legal authorities say it could begin this fall.

Munich's state court is in charge because Bavaria was Demjanjuk's last place of residence before he and his family immigrated to the United States in January 1952.

Demjanjuk has undergone a thorough medical evaluation since he arrived in Germany in May and doctors cleared the way for formal charges against him earlier this month, saying he was fit to stand trial with the stipulation that his court attendances should not exceed two 90-minute sessions, per day.

One Legal Battle Ends, Another Begins

Denying the charges against him from day one, Demjanjuk has fought extradition from the United States since 1981.

That battle ended last week when Germany's highest court decided that his deportation to Germany to stand trial was legal.

Ukranian-born Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker from Cleveland, insists he's innocent and he has never hurt anybody.

He claims he has never been to the Sobibor concentration camp and maintains he was a Red Army soldier who spent World War II as a prisoner of war.

After the war, he found work as a truck driver at a refugee camp in Bavaria, southern Germany.

He met his wife, Vera, and the couple had their first child, daughter Lydia, before the family applied for permission to immigrate to the United States.

They arrived there in early 1952 and Demjanjuk was granted citizenship in 1958. The family moved to Ohio, where Demjanjuk worked for the Ford Motor Co.

The Demjanjuks had two other children, Irene and John Jr., and the family moved to a one-family house in suburban Seven Hills, where they still live today and from where he was deported to Germany.

The upcoming trial in Munich is not the first one that Demjanjuk will have to face.

In 1988, he was convicted on charges by Israel's War Crime Court of being "Ivan the Terrible," a Nazi henchman in charge of the gas chambers at Treblinka concentration camp.

The court had sentenced him to death, a charge later overturned by Israel's Supreme Court when new evidence emerged showing another man was likely to be the notorious Nazi henchman.

Demjanjuk returned to the United States a free man.

In 2002, a U.S. judge revoked his citizenship, based on U.S. Justice Department evidence showing he concealed his service at Sobibor concentration camp and other Nazi-run camps.