Demjanjuk Arrives in Israel to Stand Trial in Nazi Death Camp Massacres
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ John Demjanjuk, the first alleged Nazi war criminal to be extradited by the United States to Israel, arrived today to stand trial on charges of mass murder in the deaths of thousands of Jews in Nazi gas chambers.
The retired Cleveland autoworker has been identified by Holocaust survivors as the Treblinka death camp guard known as ″Ivan the Terrible.″ He will be tried on charges that in 1942 and 1943 he helped operate the gas chambers in which 900,000 Jews were killed at the Polish camp.
Accompanied by two U.S. marshals, the 65-year-old Demjanjuk was flown from New York to Israel in a curtained-off section in the tourist class of a regular El Al Israel Airlines flight, said airport authority spokesman George Katz.
Katz said most of the 460 other passengers did not know Demjanjuk was on the plane, which stopped on a distant runway to drop him off before continuing on to the airport terminal.
The pilot, whose name also is George Katz, said the plane had developed engine trouble during the flight and officials ″seriously considered landing in London...but because of our special cargo we decided to continue.″
As he walked down the stairs of the Boeing 747 wearing a brown suit and open-necked shirt, Demjanjuk was approached by the Israeli police officer in charge of his interrogation, Alex Ish-Shalom, and a translator.
Demjanjuk laughed nervously as the U.S. marshals took off his handcuffs. Ish-Shalom then manacled him with Israeli handcuffs and read him his rights, saying: ″You are under arrest on suspicion of crimes under the Nazi War Crimes Law.″
His statement was translated from Hebrew for Demjanjuk, whom witnesses described as grim-faced and trembling as he walked down the stairs. Police spokesman Adi Gonen said Demjanjuk asked to kiss the ground of the Holy Land, but that police denied his request.
Demjanjuk was driven from the airport to the maximum-security Ayalon Prison in a Brinks truck, painted in the blue-and-white colors of Israeli police. The armor-plated truck, with a 15-man security detail, is also to be used to take Demjanjuk to court in Jerusalem.
Emotions about the Holocaust run high in Israel, and police fear relatives of survivors or nationalist extremists might make an attempt on Demjanjuk’s life.
Security for his arrival and along the five-mile route to the prison was some of the tightest ever seen. Police code-named the arrival ″Operation Justice.″
The daily Yediot Ahronot said the trial would begin in mid-April to give the prosecution time to put together its case. Under Israeli law, Demjanjuk must appear before a judge within 48 hours.
He is expected to be taken Sunday to a Jerusalem magistrate’s court where prosecutors will present charges and ask the judge to remand him into police custody until the end of the trial.
At Ayalon Prison in Ramla, 14 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, Demjanjuk will be housed in a 10-by-11 foot cell isolated from the other 650 inmates. The cell is constantly monitored by television cameras, and seven jailers will mount a 24-hour guard on Demjanjuk and taste his food before he eats it.
Deputy Prison Commissioner Shalom Rosilio told reporters the measures were designed to prevent Demjanjuk from harming himself and to protect him from any attack.
Demjanjuk, who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship for concealing his past, is the first accused Nazi war criminal ever extradited by the United States to Israel and the second to be tried in the Jewish state. Israeli Justice Minister Moshe Nissim said the extradition could set a precedent.
In 1960, Israeli secret agents kidnapped Adolf Eichmann from Argentina so he could stand trial for masterminding the liquidation of 6 million Jews during World War II. Eichmann was found guilty and hanged in 1962, the only person ever executed in Israel.
Eichmann’s and Demjanjuk’s trials were made possible under a 1950 law empowering Israel to try suspected Nazis although their offenses were not committed in Israel and took place before Israel gained independence in 1948.
Aharon Gelbart, one of about 10 Treblinka survivors living in Israel, said in a radio interview that in 1942, ″I ran away from Treblinka and that was the last time I saw that terrible murderer Demjanjuk, Ivan the Terrible. It is satisfying to me and to the people of Israel that this murderer will face an Israeli court in Jerusalem.″
On Feb. 12, the United States extradited the former justice minister of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia, Andrija Artukokiv, to Yugoslavia for trial. Another Treblinka guard, Fedor Fedorenko, was deported by U.S. officials to the Soviet Union in December.