John Demjanjuk moved one step closer to another trial after German prosecutors said Friday that doctors had deemed the 89-year-old fit to go to court on charges of being accessory to murder at the Sobibor Nazi death camp.
A Dutch group representing members of victims' families who hope to serve as co-plaintiffs in the trial welcomed the decision to try the retired auto worker, who was recently deported from his suburban Ohio home. They expressed hope in a statement that "the truth is found and justice is done."
Munich prosecutors accuse Demjanjuk of being a guard at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. They allege that he was an accessory to murder in 29,000 cases and said they expect formal charges later this month.
But his son, John Demjanjuk Jr. vowed to "vigorously dispute" the doctors' decision, saying they have given him only 16 months to live, due to his incurable leukemic bone marrow disease.
"This has nothing to do with bringing anyone to justice or fitness for trial. My father will not live to fairly litigate the matter as (he) has successfully done before," Demjanjuk Jr. said in a statement.
Prosecutors said that Demjanjuk's time in court must not exceed two 90-minute sessions daily.
"We are very pleased that this will pave the way for him to be prosecuted in Germany," said Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter at
the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"This has been a very complicated case, but it is important that Demjanjuk, who actively participated in the implementation of the Final Solution, finally receive an appropriate punishment," Zuroff said by telephone from Jerusalem.
Demjanjuk has been in custody in Munich since arriving there May 12 after losing an extended court battle to stay in the United States when his citizenship was revoked. His health was a key issue in that battle.
Photos taken in April showed Demjanjuk (pronounced dem-YAHN'-yuk) wincing as immigration agents removed him from his home in Seven Hills, Ohio, during an earlier aborted attempt to deport him to Germany.
Images taken days before his deportation and released by the U.S. government showed him entering his car unaided.
Demjanjuk says he was a Red Army soldier who spent World War II as a Nazi prisoner of war and never hurt anyone.
But Nazi-era documents obtained by U.S. justice authorities and shared with German prosecutors include a photo ID identifying Demjanjuk as a guard at the Sobibor death camp and say he was trained at an SS facility for Nazi guards at Trawniki, also in Poland.
The more than 30 potential co-plaintiffs in the Netherlands said in the statement released through the secretary of their advisory group that they hoped the trial would serve to bring attention to Sobibor and other death camps.
"It is less important for them whether he goes to jail," Johannes Houwink ten Cate, said.
Efforts to prosecute the Ukrainian native began in 1977 and have involved courts and government officials from at least five countries on three continents.
Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison in Germany.