Net Closes on 'Ivan the Terrible' Alleged Nazi Mass Murderer Could Face Trial in Germany
Ivan John Demjanjuk, 88, has for years been suspected of involvement in the murder of thousands of Jews during World War II. Now German prosecutors believe they may finally be able to bring him to justice.
A suspected Nazi mass murderer, accused of complicity in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews, could soon find himself hauled before the courts in Germany.
Ivan John Demjanjuk's alleged role as a World War II death camp guard has for years made him one of the most hotly pursued targets of German investigators. And now Nazi hunter Kurt Schrimm, who heads up the world's largest investigation center for such atrocities in Ludwigsburg, Germany believes he has finally pinned him down.
Following painstaking research across three continents, Schrimm and his colleagues believe they have enough material to request the extradition of 88-year-old Demjanjuk, who now lives in the state of Ohio in the United States.
Public investigator Schrimm on Monday handed documentation for preliminary proceedings against the 88-year-old, remembered by those he allegedly tortured as "Ivan the Terrible," over to the Public Prosecutor's Office in Munich.
"In our opinion, a charge can be brought," said the veteran Nazi hunter, whose pursuit of Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk saw him and his team trawl through archives in Israel, the US and Germany.
The charges against the elderly man are enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the most conflict-hardened.
It is alleged he trained as a guard in the SS camp Trawniki close to the Polish city of Lublin. From the end of March to the middle of September 1943, prosecutors claim he served in the death camp Sobibor in south-east Poland. Between May 1942 and October 1943, some 250,000 people were executed there.
It is alleged Demjanjuk personally has the blood of tens of thousands of these victims on his hands.
Prosecutors claim he was involved in the deaths of at least 29,000 Jews, most of whom were women, children and elderly men. The majority were killed on the day of their arrival at the camp.
And 1,900 of his victims were allegedly German Jews, which is vitally important to increasing the chances of charging him in Germany.
Schrimm's recent research has made it possible to find out the complete names and dates of birth of the guard's victims, he claims.
The oldest victim, who was sent to his death on April 23, 1943, in the gas chambers, was a 99-year-old Jewish man from Holland.
According to Schrimm, among those on the trains to the camps were babies and small children, who were immediately gassed after their arrival in Sobibor.
"US Has a Strong Interest to Get Rid of Demjanjuk"
It is not the first time investigators have tried to prosecute Demjanjuk. He was handed over to Israel by the United States after his suspected involvement in the Holocaust emerged. He was then put on trial in 1988 -- and sentenced to death.
During the 17-month trial, five survivors of the concentration camp Treblinka in Poland came forward and remembered him as a notorious guard who went by the nickname of "Ivan the Terrible."
But because Demjanjuk's identity as the cruel guard could be not confirmed, the death sentence against him was quashed by Israel's highest court in 1993. Since then he has lived in the US.
It is now up to the German authorities to request his extradition from the US.
Schrimm believes the United States government has a strong interest in handing him over. Demjanjuk, who currently lives in Ohio, was born in Ukraine and became a US citizen in 1952. But after his trial in Israel, legal proceedings brought against him in relation to his alleged activities as a guard in the Sobibor camp led him to be stripped of his US citizenship in May 2008.
"The USA has a strong interest to get rid of Demjanjuk," Schrimm said. "The Ukraine and other states don't want to take him in. This is a great chance to hand Demjanjuk over and call him to account for his actrocities."
The last big trial against a Nazi henchman in Germany was 16 years ago. A senior SS officer, Josef Schwammberger, was jailed for life for murder and for acting as an accessory to murder in 650 deaths. He died in prison in 2004.