Demjanjuk has for years maintained his innocence. His son, John Demjanjuk, Jr., recently told SPIEGEL ONLINE that there is "absolutely no case to convict my father of anything in a criminal trial." He also claims that his father is too old and too ill to travel to Germany to stand before the court.
But prosecutors in Munich, where the charges were filed, say they have been able to authenticate documents that place Demjanjuk in Sobibor during the period when it was operating as a death camp during World War II. Jonathan Drimmer, who led successful efforts by the US Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations to strip Demjanjuk of his US citizenship at the beginning of this decade, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that there are seven different pieces of evidence that point to Demjanjuk as having served at the camp.
The new charges are just the latest in a long legal saga centered on Demjanjuk. Originally from Ukraine, Demjanjuk claimed that he served in the Soviet army during the war and was captured by German troops in 1942 and interned in a prisoner of war camp. He gained citizenship in the US in 1958, but was extradited to Israel in the mid-1980s and convicted of being the infamous camp guard at Treblinka known as Ivan the Terrible.
He was freed in the early 1990s after it became clear that he was not, in fact, Ivan the Terrible and returned to the US. It wasn't long, however, before additional evidence arose implicating Demjanjuk for having been one of some 5,000 so-called Trawnikis, foreign volunteers who helped out the Nazis with the slaughter of the Jews in the death camps. He fought for years against a US court ruling allowing his deportation, but the US Supreme Court affirmed that decision by rejecting an appeals petition last year.
Of particular importance for Wednesday's charges is Demjanjuk's ID with the number 1393. After extensive investigation involving comparing the document with other contemporary IDs, public prosecutors determined that it is, in fact, authentic.
Demjanjuk's son told SPIEGEL ONLINE recently that his father is "very frail" and suffers from a "blood and bone marrow disorder." His neighbor, however, said that, despite his advanced years, Demjanjuk shovelled snow from his driveway this winter and that he is frequently to be seen on his knees in his garden.
The public prosecutor's office in Munich said that further steps to bring Demjanjuk to Germany will be taken after close consultation with the government in Berlin. As soon as he arrives, he will be officially charged before the court.
cgh -- with wire reports
With reporting by Jan Friedmann and Cordula Meyer
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