John Demjanjuk was released from federal custody Tuesday evening, just hours after six immigration officers removed the accused Nazi death camp guard from his suburban home in a wheelchair for deportation to Germany, authorities said.
Federal officials had taken Mr. Demjanjuk to a federal building in downtown Cleveland, but the 89-year-old retired autoworker’s impending return to Germany was halted when a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of deportation.
An arrest warrant in Germany claims Mr. Demjanjuk was an accessory to about 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.
Mr. Demjanjuk was driven to his home in Seven Hills after his release, former son-in-law and family spokesman Ed Nishnic said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it would supervise him through electronic monitoring.
In granting the stay, the three-judge panel said it would further consider Mr. Demjanjuk’s motion to reopen the U.S. case that ordered the deportation, in which Mr. Demjanjuk said painful medical ailments would make travel to Germany torturous.
Citing the need to act because of the possibility of Mr. Demjanjuk’s imminent deportation, the federal appeals court issued the stay without addressing the U.S. government’s argument that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the appeal.
The government planned to continue its legal battle in court, said Laura Sweeney, speaking for the Justice Department.
Mr. 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 Mr. Demjanjuk was being held.
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Demjanjuk’s wife, Vera, sobbed and held her hands to her mouth as immigration officers loaded her husband’s wheelchair into a van at their home. As the van moved down the street, Mrs. Demjanjuk 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 Mr. Demjanjuk.
Mr. Nishnic said Mr. 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.
Mr. 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, predicted his father would not survive long enough in Germany to stand trial.
The elder Mr. Demjanjuk has denied being a Nazi guard and claims he was a prisoner of war of the Germans. He came to the United States after the war as a refugee.
He was tried in Israel after accusations surfaced that he was the notorious Nazi guard “Ivan the Terrible” in Poland at the Treblinka death camp. He was found guilty in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a conviction later overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.