Cleveland Plain Dealer | 24Jun2008 | John Caniglia

Civil rights group wants John Demjanjuk extradited to Spain for war crimes

Seven Hills man, 3 others charged with torture at camps

An international civil rights group has asked that John Demjanjuk be extradited to Spain on charges that he tortured Spaniards at Nazi concentration camps.

A judge in Spain is expected to decide within months whether to approve the request, a decision that could put Demjanjuk on trial, again, for war crimes.

The request is an attempt to clear a diplomatic hurdle to get Demjanjuk out of the country for his wartime past. Demjanjuk has been ordered deported by U.S. judges but, as of yet, no country has agreed to accept him.

The civil rights group, Equipo Nizkor, accused the 88-year-old Seven Hills man on Monday of serving as a guard at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany, where 30,000 Jews and other prisoners died from unsanitary conditions, malnutrition and other atrocities.

Last week, Germany announced that it also may seek extradition against Demjanjuk, accusing him of torture at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. German authorities told the Associated Press that a decision could come by the end of the summer.

U.S. judges ruled that Demjanjuk served as a Nazi guard at the Trawniki guard camp and Majdanek concentration camp, in addition to Sobibor and Flossenburg.

Demjanjuk has denied the allegations. His family says he suffers from a blood disorder and is too frail to travel and stand trial.

"This is taking it to the ridiculous," said Edward Nishnic, a spokesman for Demjanjuk's family.

"It's another form of harassment against a very old and very frail man," Nishnic said.

Equipo Nizkor also accused three other men -- Johann Leprich, Anton Tittjung and Josias Kumpf, all 83 -- of working as camp guards. The group said the men worked at Mauthausen in Nazi-occupied Austria and at Sachsenhausen and Flossenburg in Germany. The documents say Spaniards were held in those camps during World War II.

So why, after 63 years, did the civil rights group pressure Spain to charge the men criminally?

It was all a matter of timing.

Demjanjuk and the other men have been ordered deported from the United States. All but Kumpf have exhausted their appeals and have been waiting for a country to accept them, but none has. Tittjung has been waiting since 2000.

Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said he worked for months to find a way to get the men out of the United States.

Zuroff said he and Madrid attorney Gloria Trinidad joined forces with Equipo Nizkor because federal judges in the United States ruled the four men had served at camps where Spaniards were held.

"Holding accountable guards from these camps in which so many innocent Spaniards were murdered would be a form of historic justice," Zuroff said. He said he was unaware of Germany's plans.

Told that Demjanjuk is 88 and frail, Richard Wilson, a member of the organization, said he has no sympathy.

"So were their victims," said Wilson, a law professor at American University in Washington, D.C. "The people who say these men are too old have never been through the trauma of this."

Spanish laws are much broader than in the United States. People and their attorneys are permitted to file criminal allegations against others, but a judge must determine whether the cases have merit. The Spaniards are expected to mirror the evidence that U.S. federal prosecutors used against Demjanjuk and the others.

Nishnic, Demjanjuk's spokesman, said other countries have tried similar tactics. He said Poland, which was investigating Demjanjuk for his work at Sobibor, refused to bring charges because it could never gain a conviction.

The request to extradite the men outraged Joseph McGinness, the Cleveland attorney who represented Anton Tittjung and Johann Leprich.

"What country wants an . . . old man with medical bills and bad health?" he said. "None."

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