Ex-Nazi guard Demjanjuk fit for trial in Germany

MUNICH, Ralf Isermann - Former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, accused of herding 29,000 Jews to the gas chambers, is fit to be tried in what could be Germany's last major Nazi case, prosecutors said Friday.
Deported from the United States in May, the Ukrainian-born 89-year-old "is fit to stand trial with the restriction that trial days do not last longer than two sessions of 90 minutes," said Margarete Noetzel, a spokeswoman for the state prosecutor's office, citing a medical report.

Ex-Nazi guard Demjanjuk fit for trial in Germany
But his son denied Demjanjuk was healthy enough to face court, and said German doctors had given him about 16 months to live due to bone marrow disease.
Noetzel said the case will be transmitted to the court in July, but that it was "not yet possible to say when a trial would begin. Any speculation would just be like reading tea leaves," she said.
Legal procedures are "going to last a while," she added.
Demjanjuk, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's number one suspect among those known to be alive, is wanted for complicity in the deaths of thousands of Jews during his time at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
The head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Ephraim Zuroff, expressed his delight at the decision, telling AFP: "We hope that it will start as quickly as possible so that this criminal can be judged and receive the punishment he deserves.
"We are convinced that Demjanjuk took part in the final solution," added Zuroff, referring to the Nazi genocide of around six million Jews.
The centre's latest report on wanted Nazi war criminals places Demjanjuk in third position behind two others thought to be dead.
However, Demjanjuk's son, also named John, wrote in an email to AFP: "With less than a year and a half for my father to live, a career-seeking German prosecutor is hastily pressing forward with a 100 percent politically motivated effort to blame Ukrainians and Europeans for the crimes of the Germans."
The former death camp guard would not live long enough to be able "to fairly litigate the matter as he has successfully done before," Demjanjuk junior argued.
It is not the first time the barrel-chested, bespectacled Demjanjuk has found himself facing judgement. He spent five years on death row in Israel before being acquitted in 1993 when the Jewish state overturned the verdict.
In that case, Demjanjuk was suspected of being "Ivan the Terrible," a particularly brutal death camp guard who specialised in hacking at naked prisoners with a sword, but Israel established it had the wrong man.
According to Demjanjuk's lawyer, his client says he was never there.
Courts in both Israel and the United States have previously stated he was a guard at Sobibor, accusations he had never previously challenged.
Prosecutors also have an SS identity card with a photograph of a young man said to be Demjanjuk and written transcripts of witness testimony placing him at the camp.
Demjanjuk is stateless, having been stripped of his US citizenship for lying about his past. Munich prosecutors say it falls on the German city to try him because he had been registered as living there after World War II.
During months of legal wrangling that preceded his eventual deportation from his home in Cleveland, Ohio, the United State Justice Department rejected the family's argument that he would not survive the flight to Germany and released four secretly filmed surveillance videos showing him apparently getting out of a car without difficulty.
This contrasted sharply with the scene before his deportation when he was carried by federal agents in a wheelchair, moaning and sobbing.
The day after his arrival at the Stadelheim prison near the southern city of Munich, medical officials there declared him fit enough to remain in custody.
"He is not typical for his age... he is in better shape than usual for an 89-year-old," deputy prison director Jochen Menzel told rolling news channel N24.
Separately, lawyers for 90-year-old German Josef Scheungraber, on trial for a massacre of civilians in Italy during World War II, called Friday for him to walk free.

Friday, July 3rd 2009
Ralf Isermann

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