Retired U.S. Autoworker Indicted On War Crime Charges
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Prosecutors formally charged retired U.S. autoworker John Demjanjuk on Monday with torturing prisoners at a Nazi death camp and operating gas chambers in which hundreds of thousands were killed.
The 26-page indictment accused him of ″crimes of incomparable severity,″ including stabbing prisoners and tearing off pieces of their flesh, while serving as a guard at the Treblinka camp in German-occupied Poland during World War II. Conviction could bring the death penalty.
Demjanjuk, 66, was born in the Soviet Ukraine and worked at a plant in Cleveland. He was extradited from the United States in February, accused of being the sadistic guard Jewish prisoners called Ivan the Terrible.
U.S. authorities stripped him of citizenship in 1981 after he was found guilty of lying about his Nazi past when he came to America in February 1952.
He will be the first person tried in Israel on charges of Nazi war crimes since Adolf Eichmann was convicted and hanged in 1962. Eichmann directed the Nazi extermination of Jews.
Demjanjuk’s trial is not expected to begin before December.
Among details of Demjanjuk’s alleged crimes included in the indictment are cutting off the ear of a prisoner named David Auslander, whipping an elderly Jew to death, and stabbing victims while forcing them into gas chambers.
″The accused stabbed his victims in various parts of their bodies, tore pieces of flesh from their limbs,″ the charge sheet said. ″The victims, bleeding profusely, were driven into the gas chambers.″
In addition, it said, ″the accused by his own acts caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings″ by running the motor which sent poisonous fumes into the chambers.
Demjanjuk’s American attorney, Mark O’Connor, told reporters his client was not the criminal named in the indictment. O’Connor has said the guard called Ivan the Terrible was killed during a 1943 prisoner uprising at the concentration camp 45 miles east of Warsaw.
Justice Minister Avraham Sharir told Israel army radio he was confident ″the problem of identity will be solved during the initial stages of the trial.″
Holocaust survivor Stefan Greik said Soviet Assistant State Prosecutor Vladimir Baskov told him Israeli prosecutors would be allowed to see a document that allegedly proves Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible, the news agency Itim reported.
In August, Israel asked the Soviet Union for several documents, including the identification card issued to Demjanjuk by the Soviet army during World War II.
Sharir said one main purpose of the trial was to educate young Israelis about Adolf Hitler’s campaign of genocide against the Jews.
″We have to remind ourselves what happens to people without roots, homeland, army and institutions to protect it ... to remind the generations growing in Israel that they have to guard and protect the state″ founded in 1948, he said.
Demjanjuk was not present when a prosecution clerk submitted the indictment to the Jerusalem district court. By law, the defendant will be called to enter his plea to the charges within 60 days.
The charge sheet, in Hebrew and English, accused Demjanjuk of murder, committing acts with the intent of destroying the Jewish people, and other ″crimes against humanity″ in 1942 and 1943.
Those crimes are punishable under a law passed by Israel’s parliament in 1950.
According to the indictment, more than 850,000 Jews and hundreds of gypsies died at Treblinka.
It lists 53 witnesses from five countries, including Israel and the United States. The prosecution’s evidence includes testimony from a former member of Hitler’s SS elite guard who allegedly served with Demjanjuk in the camp. Eight witnesses are survivors of Treblinka.
Demjanjuk will be tried by a three-judge panel led by a Supreme Court justice. The judges have not yet been chosen.
Prosecutors said they would ask that Demjanjuk continue to be held at the maximum-security Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv until the trial. They said a hearing would be held later this week.
Demjanjuk, who kissed the ground when he landed at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on Feb. 28, has said little during the hearings but has appeared in good spirits.
He told former Soviet prisoner Anatoly Shcharansky during a meeting at the prison this summer that he was being treated well.
His private cell is isolated from other prisoners by a high wall and several gates. It is monitored by closed-circuit television cameras.
Demjanjuk’s wife, Vera, a daughter, son-in-law and his seven-month grandson visited him in July.