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14 May, 2009 04:30

Who is Nazi guard Demjanjuk?

Suspected Nazi death camp warden John “Ivan” Demjanjuk has been judged fit enough to stay in jail until his trial in Germany.

Born in Ukraine and originally known as Ivan, the 89-year-old is accused of being accessory to the murder of 29,000 Jews during the Holocaust and personally slaughtering several Nazi concentration camp prisoners. It will not be his first, but it may be his final courtroom appearance, as the Ukrainian-American Ivan Demjanjuk is almost 90 is barely able to face the trial.

In the 1980s he had already been sentenced to death, but the ruling was then overturned because of a lack of evidence confirming whether he really was the man involved. Even today, confusion over his true identity remains. Is he the Demjanjuk thought to be behind the mass murder of Jews in a concentration camp in Poland?

It turned out that back in 1942 his native village in Western Ukraine saw two men named Ivan Demjanjuk leave for the war.

One of them fled to America and never returned. The other came back and some 20 years later committed suicide.

In the 1960s, KGB officers came to the village looking for the Nazi collaborator. Several people were questioned, including the father of local resident Pyotr Bondaruk.

“The KGB or whoever it was, they had a photo of him [Demjanjuk],” Bondaruk recalls. “Nobody had known that, but my dad recognized Ivan in the photo. He was a totally different man, but with the same name. That was it. My granddad told him that they were after him, and he committed suicide.”

Although some believe Ivan could not stand the pressure, his remaining relative in the village says the investigation had nothing to do with his death.

“His wife was cheating on him,” insists Demjanjuk’s relative Aleksandr Cherchuk. “They went to visit their daughter. There was a quarrel between them, and the wife walked out on him with a local man. He came back alone and finally he killed himself.”

Some locals say it was the Ivan who stayed in America is the one who was involved in crimes against humanity.

That was the very man Israel initially had extradited from the US and sentenced to death – the notorious war criminal “Ivan the Terrible”. However, it was later established that this nickname was given to another Ukrainian and Demjanjuk was acquitted because of a lack of decisive evidence. All the same, witnesses testified that they recognized him as one of the guards at the Sobibor Nazi death camp in Poland.

Demjanjuk denies the charges, saying he was just a Red Army soldier who was a prisoner of war. German prosecutors, however, say they have enough evidence to try him.