OHIO, Apr 15 – A former Nazi death camp guard won a last-minute stay of deportation, shortly after US immigration agents carried the 89 year-old from his home in a wheelchair to face trial in Germany.
The ruling came in response to a petition filed earlier Tuesday by John Demjanjuk, who is accused of having voluntarily served at the Sobibor and Majdanek concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
"The petitioner’s motion for a stay of removal is granted, pending further consideration of the matters presented by the petition and motion," said an order from the US federal appeals court.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk’s reprieve from extradition to Germany came the same day immigration officials carried him wailing from his home in Ohio.
His 20-year-old granddaughter Olivia Nishnic said she was horrified by what she had witnessed.
"It makes me sick. I never thought in a million years I’d see my grandfather wheeled out in a wheelchair, screaming in agony because he’s in so much pain.
"I feel I definitely won’t ever be the same from seeing something like that."
Demjanjuk faces charges of aiding in the murder of at least 29,000 Jews during World War II.
This last ruling was the latest twist in a long saga for Demjanjuk, who narrowly escaped being hanged for war crimes in Israel and has spent years in court fighting to keep the US citizenship he obtained in 1958.
Demjanjuk was allowed to return home with an electronic tracking bracelet around his ankle, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
Neither the Justice Department nor ICE would comment further except to say that the government would "continue to litigate" the case and work closely with Germany to "effectuate Demjanjuk’s removal from the United States."
Demjanjuk’s lawyer has argued that his client is in poor health, and that jailing and trying him in Germany would cause him pain amounting to torture. His family says he suffers from kidney disease and blood disorders.
"He will face his moment of justice," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, who is certain that Demjanjuk will lose his latest appeal and be deported to Germany.
While acknowledging that Tuesday had been a traumatic day for Demjanjuk’s family, Hier argued that ill health and old age was no reason not to hold the death camp guard accountable.
"I don’t have any pity for the fact that he’s 89 because I think of the victims he helped push into the gas chambers who would have loved to have 89 years."
Demjanjuk moaned and wailed as immigration agents carefully lowered him into a wheelchair and rolled him down the hall of his yellow brick house in Seven Hills, Ohio, according to an AFP reporter invited into the family’s home.
His wife, Vera, sobbed and kissed him goodbye before he was carried down the steps into a waiting white van after being examined by a doctor and meeting with a priest.
"This is just like the communists who came to your door and took a family member away and you never saw them again," she said in Ukrainian.
"He did nothing here … And our country treats him like that."
Shari Kochman, spokesperson for local chapter of Anti-Defamation League, was unhappy with the stay of deportation order.
"It’s an abuse of justice. Justice delayed is justice denied," she said.
"If nothing else he is here in this country illegally," she said. "It’s proven that he lied on his immigration papers and needs to be deported."
Former wartime inmates of Nazi camps in occupied Poland identified Demjanjuk as the notorious Ukrainian prison guard "Ivan the Terrible" during a 1977 US Justice Department investigation.
He changed his name from Ivan when he emigrated to the United States in 1952.
Demjanjuk was sentenced to death by a court in Israel in 1988, but his conviction was overturned five years later by Israel’s Supreme Court after statements from other former guards identified another man as the sadistic "Ivan."
He was returned to the United States despite strenuous objections from Holocaust survivors and Jewish groups, who said he should be retried based on the ample evidence that he was a death camp guard.
Demjanjuk regained his US citizenship, which was first stripped in 1981, after an appeals court ruled in 1998 that the government had recklessly withheld exculpatory evidence.
The US government filed new charges a year later using fresh evidence that surfaced following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He was again stripped of his US citizenship in 2002. But he remained in Ohio long after his appeals of that decision had been exhausted because the United States could not find a country willing to accept the now-stateless alleged war criminal.
The latest legal battle has dragged on for more than a month since Germany issued a warrant for Demjanjuk’s arrest on March 11.