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Published: Monday, 5/11/2009

Plane carrying Demjanjuk leaves Cleveland bound for Germany

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND An airplane carrying suspected Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk (dem-YAHN -yuk) has taken off from a Cleveland airport as U.S. officials deport him to Germany.

Burke Lakefront Airport Commissioner Khalid Bahhur (BAH -her) confirmed that Demjanjuk was on board the flight that departed shortly after 7 p.m. Monday. It was headed for Germany.

The deportation comes four days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Demjanjuk s request to block deportation and about 3 years after he was last ordered deported.

The 89-year-old retired Ohio autoworker is accused in Munich of 29,000 counts of accessory to murder at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Demjanjuk denies the charges. He maintains he was held by the Germans as a Soviet prisoner of war and was never a camp guard.

Ukrainian-born, Demjanjuk claims he was a Red Army soldier who was captured by the Nazis, spent the rest of the war as their prisoner and never hurt anyone.

There are Nazi-era documents that suggest otherwise including 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.

Still, the key to Demjanjuk s fate may not lie with the evidence but rather on a German court s decision about whether he is medically fit to stand trial.

In any case, Demjanjuk, who has been without a country since the U.S. stripped him of his citizenship in 2002, is likely to spend the rest of his life in Germany, either in jail or in a home for the elderly.

Questions have been raised about Demjanjuk s health.

Dramatic photos last month showed him wincing in apparent pain as he was removed by immigration agents from his home in Seven Hills, Ohio. However, images taken only days earlier and released by the U.S. government showed him entering his car unaided outside a medical office.

Demjanjuk s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said Monday that his father is dying of leukemic bone marrow disease and may not even survive the flight from Cleveland to Munich.

Timing is everything in the case, according to Jonathan Drimmer, who served as the lead lawyer in the 2002 U.S. case against Demjanjuk.

This case is not about the strength of the evidence, it is about how quickly this guy can be put on trial, Drimmer said Monday. The evidence against him is so strong.

Demjanjuk Jr. said his father was never involved with the Nazis.

He was a Ukrainian POW nearly killed in combat against the Nazis, he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Monday.

Throughout three decades of court action in the U.S. and Israel, Demjanjuk has insisted he was an innocent victim.

At his trial in Jerusalem, where he was convicted in 1988 of being the Treblinka death camp guard Ivan the Terrible, Demjanjuk maintained he was a victim of mistaken identity, insisting he spent most of his time in POW camps as a captured Soviet soldier.

At worst, he said he was a driver at Sobibor, according to documents at the International Tracing Center in Bad Arolsen, Germany, which holds the records of millions of people displaced by World War II.

I felt myself like I was in Sobibor or Treblinka when I was in the (POW) camps, he told the court in Israel.

Demjanjuk was sentenced to hang, but had his conviction thrown out in 1993 by Israel s Supreme Court, which argued he was not conclusively identified as the notorious Treblinka killer.

Drimmer said that U.S. courts have upheld evidence shared with the German prosecutors that show Demjanjuk was at Sobibor and Flossenberg.

Among documents obtained by the Munich prosecutors is an SS identity card that features a photo of a young, round-faced Demjanjuk along with his height and weight, and says he worked at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk argued at his trial in Israel that the card, issued at the Trawniki training center for Nazi guards, was forged by the Soviet Union, which provided it to Israel.

This whole document I have never seen and never signed. I was never at Trawniki, Demjanjuk said.

German prosecutors also have a transfer roster that lists Demjanjuk by his name and birthday and says he was at Sobibor, and statements from former guards who remembered him being there, Drimmer said.



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