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AP Interview: Demjanjuk son visits father in Germany for first time, hopeful of return to US
MUNICH (AP) ' Convicted of serving as a Nazi death camp guard and in failing health at 91, John Demjanjuk still hopes he might be able to return home to Ohio, his son says after seeing his father face-to-face for the first time since his deportation in 2009.
In an interview with The Associated Press, John Demjanjuk Jr. said if a court battle in Ohio results in his father being given permission by Germany to return home, he would do so even before his appeal in Germany is heard.
"Absolutely, immediately," Demjanjuk said after visiting with his father for four days at his nursing home in the Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach. "We're Americans ' Americans of Ukrainian heritage ' and that's his home."
Demjanjuk was found guilty in May on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder after a Munich court found that evidence showed he was a guard during the war the Nazis' Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.
The case was the first time someone was convicted in Germany on the basis only of having been a guard, without evidence of a specific killing.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was a Soviet Red Army soldier captured by the Germans in Crimea in 1942.
The Munich court found that he agreed to serve the Nazis as a guard at Sobibor. Demjanjuk has consistently rejected the allegation, insisting he never served as a guard anywhere and was held in German camps himself for much of World War II.
Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison in Germany but released pending appeal, which could take another year or more.
In releasing Demjanjuk, the court put no restrictions on his travel, but he has no passport after being stripped of his U.S. citizenship ahead of his deportation to Germany in 2009.
But his family is fighting in the U.S. They argue that the U.S. government failed to disclose important evidence, namely a 1985 secret FBI report uncovered by the AP. That report indicates the FBI believed that a Nazi ID card purportedly showing that Demjanjuk served as a death camp guard was a Soviet-made fake.
The family is attempting to reopen his U.S. citizenship case and hope that even before there is a decision, the court will order that Demjanjuk allowed back into the U.S.
That may seem unlikely, but it has already happened once before in the approximately 35-year saga of Demjanjuk's legal battles.
In the 1980s, Demjanjuk stood trial in Israel accused of being the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp. He was convicted, sentenced to death ' then freed when the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the ruling, saying the evidence showed he was the victim of mistaken identity.
He then was allowed back to the U.S., and in a 1993 review of the American denaturalization hearing that led to his extradition, a federal U.S. appeals panel concluded that the Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations engaged in "prosecutorial misconduct that seriously misled the court."
Demjanjuk Jr. said the family is now "very confident that we're going to achieve a hearing before the Federal District court in Cleveland" and also that his father's conviction in Germany will be overturned.
"We've been in this position before ' he was convicted and sentenced to death not in Germany, but in the state of Israel and on the face of it on much more convincing evidence than Germany has ever seen ' and they were wrong and it led to an acquittal by the Israeli Supreme Court," he said.
"If the appellate court in Germany takes an honest approach like the Israeli Supreme Court, it will be overturned ' I'm confident of that," he said. "The bigger question is if my father will live that long."
Demjanjuk Jr. said the nursing home care has been fine but his father is isolated with nobody there speaking Ukrainian and only a few with some English, though a Ukrainian priest visits about once a month.
"He's got a walker and he uses that ' as was the case before ' and there are good days and bad days," he said. "All things considered, I think he's doing OK, but he was certainly happy to see me ' it's definitely a difficult situation for him, he's alone there."
It took another legal battle, however, to ensure Demjanjuk still receives the medicine to treat his kidney disease, after Munich authorities said they would no longer pay for it.
The Munich decision was based on a state doctor's assessment that weekly shots of erythropoietin were unnecessary.
The family appealed the decision, and learned Tuesday that Munich city authorities had decided to pay for the medication after all.
Demjanjuk Jr. said he and his father talked primarily about the family and he shared photos of milestones that his father had missed, like birthdays, sports events, and the high school graduation of a granddaughter. He said his mother, 86, is in failing health herself and was not able to visit.
For the most part, Demjanjuk Jr. said his father remains stoic about his situation while steadfastly maintaining his innocence.
"He's not angry, that's the amazing thing... he just deals with things in front of him," he said. "He doesn't understand why he's in Germany and blamed for the deeds of others, but he's a survivor."