MUNICH – German prosecutors formally charged John Demjanjuk on Monday with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp during World War II.
The charges against the 89-year-old retired auto worker, who was deported from the U.S. in May, were filed at a Munich state court, prosecutors in the city said in a brief statement.
Doctors cleared the way for formal charges earlier this month, determining that Demjanjuk (dem-YAHN'-yuk) was fit to stand trial so long as court hearings do not exceed two 90-minute sessions per day.
The court must now decide whether to accept the charges — usually a formality — and set a date for the trial. Court spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel said the trial was unlikely to start before the autumn.
Demjanjuk lawyer Guenther Maull had no immediate comment on the charges, saying he had not yet seen them.
Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison in Germany.
Prosecutors accuse Demjanjuk of serving as a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, says he was a Red Army soldier who spent the war as a 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 saying he was trained at an SS facility for Nazi guards at Trawniki, also in Nazi-occupied Poland. U.S. and German experts have declared the ID genuine.
Demjanjuk gained U.S. citizenship in 1958. The U.S. Justice Department moved to revoke the citizenship in 1977, alleging he hid his past as a Nazi death camp guard, and it was revoked in 1981.
Demjanjuk was tried in Israel over accusations that he was the notorious "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. He was found guilty in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity but the conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.
That decision came after Israel won access to Soviet archives, which had depositions given after the war by 37 Treblinka guards and forced laborers who said "Ivan" was a different Ukrainian named Ivan Marchenko.
Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship was restored in 1998. However, a U.S. judge revoked it again in 2002 based on fresh Justice Department evidence showing he concealed his service at Sobibor and other Nazi-run death and forced-labor camps from immigration officials.
A U.S. immigration judge ruled in 2005 he could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine. Munich prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him in March.
They accused him in that warrant of being an accessory to murder in 29,000 cases. However, that number was reduced in the charges because, of the people transported to Sobibor, "many did not survive the journey," said Anton Winkler, a spokesman for Munich prosecutors.
Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, welcomed the filing of formal charges.
"This is obviously an important step forward," Zuroff said by telephone from Jerusalem. "We hope that the trial itself will be expedited so that justice will be achieved and he can be given the appropriate punishment."
"The effort to bring Demjanjuk to justice sends a very powerful message that the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrator," Zuroff said.