Attorney fears Demjanjuk worsening

AP learns 90-year-old autoworker's bone marrow disease degenerating.

May 20, 2010 10:27
3 minute read.
Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk.

Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk.. (photo credit: AP)


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MUNICH — John Demjanjuk's family and attorney have told the AP that the 90-year-old's medical condition appears to be worsening as his trial in Germany drags on, as he was hospitalized Wednesday for the second day in a row with dangerously low blood hemoglobin levels.

Demjanjuk, a former Ohio autoworker who is being tried on 27,900 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he was a guard at the Nazi's Sobibor death camp, was taken to a Munich university clinic Tuesday after complaining of chest pains, forcing that day's court session to be canceled.

Though an EKG exam indicated that Demjanjuk had not suffered a heart attack, doctors said his hemoglobin level was down to a reading of 8 — with normal levels being about 14 to 18 — and that he needed to remain in the hospital, presiding Judge Ralph Alt reported as he called Wednesday's session off, as well.

Alt said doctors had told him that Demjanjuk had received a transfusion and was expected to be able to return to the courtroom Thursday.

But defense attorney Ulrich Busch said a clinic doctor had told him that Demjanjuk should remain in the hospital for several more days for observation.

Demjanjuk suffers from several medical problems but has been declared fit to face trial as long as court sessions are limited to two 90-minute sessions per day.

A doctor and paramedics have been on hand at every court session to monitor his condition, and since the trial began Nov. 30 at least a half dozen sessions have been canceled due to Demjanjuk's medical issues.

His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., told the AP on Wednesday that his father's bone marrow disease has progressed and that moving forward with the trial is akin to "torture."

"They are inexplicably denying him the appropriate medical care and advanced treatment that he would have here in the US," Demjanjuk Jr. said in an e-mail. "The judge and prosecutors are pushing for the show to go on and I expect it will even if in violation of his human rights and even though the lack of evidence in the case already demands an acquittal."

Demjanjuk has spent most of the trial lying in a bed in the courtroom, either with sunglasses on or a cap pulled down over his eyes, and has shown no signs of reacting to testimony. Still, at breaks he has been able to talk with his interpreter and attorneys, and has occasionally answered questions from the judges.

Busch said Demjanjuk only rarely received transfusions while he was in the United States, but since his deportation to Germany he has now had eight, which he said was an "alarm sign."

"His condition is getting significantly worse," Busch said.

Demjanjuk had his US citizenship revoked in 1981 after the Justice Department alleged he hid his past as the notorious Treblinka guard "Ivan the Terrible." He was extradited to Israel, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1988, only to have the conviction overturned five years later as a case of mistaken identity.

He was deported to Germany in May 2009 from the US to stand trial on allegations he was a guard at Sobibor, a different camp in occupied Poland.

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk rejects the charges, saying he has been mistaken for someone else. He maintains he was a Soviet soldier captured by the Germans and spent most of the war in prison camps himself.

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