Extradition Nears For Man Accused Of War Crimes
CLEVELAND (AP) _ A retired autoworker who exhausted appeals of his extradition when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, faces being sent to Israel for trial on charges he ran gas chambers where up to 900,000 Jews were killed during World War II.
The extradition of John Demjanjuk, 65, would be the first between the United States and Israel for war crimes charges and the second by the United States this month.
Demjanjuk could be placed in Israel’s custody as soon as today, Israeli Justice Ministry spokesman Yitzhak Feinberg said in Tel Aviv.
After the Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday on behalf of Demjanjuk, papers were signed at the State Department setting the stage for his extradition.
Demjanjuk, an inmate since April at a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., was removed from that facility Monday, said hospital spokesman Rick Cowan. He referred all questions to Murray Stein, associate director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Affair. Stein could not be reached for comment today; calls to his office for comment were not immediately returned.
Demjanjuk would be the first person charged under Israel’s law against Nazis and Nazi collaborators since Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged in Israel in 1962 for organizing the transportation of six million Jews to death camps in German-occupied Europe.
The Justice Department said the extradition to Israel has priority over a previous order that the Ukranian-born Demjanjuk be deported to the Soviet Union.
Demjanjuk, a retired Ford Motor Co. employee, has denied any cooperation with the Nazis.
″This is the beginning of the fight. This is not the end of anything,″ said Jack Burscu, president of the board of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Church in Cleveland, where Demjanjuk and his wife and three children have long been parishioners.
″I believe God is going to prevail in all of this, and we believe the truth will eventually come to light.″
After the Supreme Court rejected Demjanjuk’s appeal, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor refused to delay the extradition for review of a new request to hear an appeal. Demjanjuk’s attorneys may request similar stays from the other eight justices.
Demjanjuk, who lived in the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills, is accused of being the sadistic guard known as Ivan the Terrible who ran the gas chambers at the death camp at Treblinka, Poland, from 1942-43.
Demjanjuk has said he was drafted into the Soviet Army, captured by the Germans in 1942 and held in prisoner of war camps for the duration of the war.
Demjanjuk, who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981, claimed that the KGB, the Soviet secret police, falsified information against him in U.S. courts.
His lawyers said Israel lacked jurisdiction in the case. Israel considers itself the legal representative of the Nazis’ Jewish victims.
At the naturalization trial that led to the stripping of his citizenship, five Treblinka survivors and a former German guard at the camp identified Demjanjuk through photographs as Ivan the Terrible.
A key piece of evidence was a Nazi guard identification card showing Demjanjuk as a young man and identifying the person pictured as Iwan Demjanjuk. The card was supplied by the Soviet Union from a war archives collection.
In stripping Demjanjuk of his citizenship, U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti ruled he had concealed his wartime activities when he entered the United States in 1952.
Earlier this month, the United States extradicted Andrija Artukovic to Yugoslavia to face charges that he was responsible for the deaths of 700,000 people as interior minister in the Nazi puppet state in Croatia.