CLEVELAND — The return of alleged Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk to Germany for trial on war crimes was delayed again Tuesday by a federal court, shortly after six immigration officers removed the retired autoworker from his suburban Cleveland home in a wheelchair.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay until it could further consider Demjanjuk's motion to reopen the U.S. case that ordered him deported, in which he says painful medical ailments would make travel to Germany torturous.
An arrest warrant in Germany claims Demjanjuk (pronounced dem-YAHN'-yuk) was an accessory to some 29,000 deaths during World War II at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Once in Germany, he could be formally charged in court.
Citing the need to act because of the possibility of Demjanjuk's imminent deportation, the court issued the stay without addressing the U.S. government's argument that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on Demjanjuk's appeal.
Former son-in-law and family spokesman Ed Nishnic said the family was relieved the stay was granted.
"We're delighted. We're prepared to make our arguments with the 6th Circuit, and it's just a shame that Mr. Demjanjuk had to go through the hell that he went through once again this morning," he said as he walked into a federal building in Cleveland where Demjanjuk was being held.
It was unclear whether Demjanjuk would be returned to his home in Seven Hills.
As Demjanjuk's wheelchair was loaded into a van at their home, his wife, Vera, sobbed and held her hands to her mouth. As the van moved down the street, Vera turned and waved, sobbing in the arms of a granddaughter.
Several family members, including a 10-year-old grandson, were in the home when the officers removed Demjanjuk.
Nishnic said Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, told his family, "I love you," in Ukrainian and was aware that the officers were there to take him to Germany.
Nishnic said his former father-in-law moaned in pain as he was placed in the wheelchair.
"It was horrendous. He was in such pain. I wouldn't want to see anyone go through something like that," said granddaughter Olivia Nishnic, 20.
John Demjanjuk Jr., who filed the appeal with the 6th Circuit earlier Tuesday, said the government hadn't lived up to earlier understandings of how his father would be removed.
"They told me that they would have an ambulance. They told me we would have three to five days' notice, and obviously you can't believe everything the government tells you," he told The Associated Press by phone while headed back to Cleveland from the federal appeals court in Cincinnati.
He predicted his father would not survive long enough in Germany to stand trial.
"If he is deported, if this madness and inhumane action is not stopped by the 6th Circuit, he will live out his life in a (German) hospital. He will never be put on trial," he said. "It makes absolutely no sense that the Germans, after nearly killing him in combat, would try to kill him once again."