Demjanjuk was born April 3, 1920, in the village of Dubovi Makharintsi in central Ukraine, two years before the country became part of the Soviet Union. He grew up during a time when the country was wracked by famines that killed millions, and a wave of purges instituted by Stalin to eliminate any possible opposition.
As a young man Demjanjuk worked as a tractor driver for the area’s collective farm. After being called up for the Soviet Red Army, he was wounded in action but sent back to the front after he had recovered, only to be captured during the battle of Kerch Peninsula in May 1942.
After the war, Demjanjuk was sent to a displaced persons camp and worked briefly as a driver for the U.S. Army. In 1950, he sought U.S. citizenship, claiming to have been a farmer in Sobibor, Poland, during the war.
Demjanjuk later said he lied about his wartime activities to avoid being sent back to Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union. Just to have admitted being in the Vlasov Army would also have been enough to have him barred from emigration to the U.S. or many other countries.
He came to the U.S. on Feb. 9, 1952, and eventually settled in Seven Hills, a middle-class suburb of Cleveland.
He was a mechanic at Ford Motor Co.’s engine plant in the Cleveland suburb of Brook Park and with his wife, Vera, raised three children — son John Jr. and daughters Irene and Lydia.
Juergen Baetz in Berlin and Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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