John Demjanjuk appeared in a Munich courtroom Tuesday as a German judge read a 21-page warrant accusing him of acting as an accessory to the murder of 29,000 people at a Nazi death camp.
U.S. immigration authorities deported the 89-year-old retired autoworker from his Ohio home Monday after the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal to block the move.
Demjanjuk, who sat in a wheelchair and used a breathing tube, sat silently as an interpreter translated the warrant into his native Ukrainian, his lawyer Guenther Maull told reporters afterward.
"He understood what was being read to him," his lawyer Guenther Maull told reporters he has filed a challenge against the warrant, arguing the evidence was not solid and Germany's jurisdiction questionable.
German authorities, who say formal charges could be filed within weeks, allege Demjanjuk served as a prison guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
American authorities shared Nazi-era documents with prosecutors in Munich, including a photo ID identifying Demjanjuk as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. German prosecutors also have a transfer roster for Sobibor that lists Demjanjuk by name and birthday and puts him at the camp, and statements from former guards who remembered him being there.
Demjanjuk maintains he was a Red Army soldier who was a prisoner of war at the death camp.
He and his family say he has severe health issues, including severe spinal, hip and leg pain, a bone marrow disorder, kidney disease, anemia, kidney stones, arthritis, gout and spinal deterioration. His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said Monday his father is dying of leukemic bone marrow disease.
Demjanjuk is being held at a special medical unit at Stadelheim prison in Munich, where Adolf Hitler spent several weeks in 1922 after being arrested. Officials in Munich say a full medical assessment could take up to two weeks.
Germany has 'special responsibility'
Bavaria's state justice minister, Beate Merk, said the victims of the Nazis deserve justice.
"This is about being an accessory to murder in 29,000 cases. That is an accusation of monstrous crimes. At all times, we owe it the victims to clear it up," he said.
"Above all in Germany, we have a very special responsibility."
Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison in Germany.
The United States originally accused Demjanjuk of being a Nazi prison guard at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland known as Ivan the Terrible.
However, after being extradited to and convicted in Israel, that country's Supreme Court ruled there was not enough evidence to prove he was the notorious guard. Records from Soviet archives contained depositions from Treblinka guards who said Ivan the Terrible was another Ukrainian, Ivan Marchenko.
Demjanjuk was allowed to return to the U.S., but American authorities renewed charges against him in 2002 after new evidence suggested he had concealed his service at Sobibor.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center had listed Demjanjuk at the top of its list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals.
"I think it is important that people, when they look at Demjanjuk, not really see him as an elderly person, but think of the young man who in his prime invested all his energy and efforts in the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children," said Efraim Zuroff, the centre's Jerusalem-based top Nazi hunter.
With Demjanjuk in custody, former Hungarian gendarmerie officer Sandor Kepiro moves to the top of the center's most-wanted list. He is accused of taking part in a mass execution of more than 1,200 civilians in Serbia in 1942.
Former SS doctor Aribert Heim had been at the top of the list, but has been placed in a special category while investigators examine a claim from Heim's son that his father died in 1992.