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Ohio burial for Demjanjuk opposed

CLEVELAND - If relatives of convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk get what they want, their patriarch will be buried in suburban Cleveland, a prospect not sitting well with Jewish advocates who argue the retired autoworker could, in death, become a magnet for neo-Nazis.

Demjanjuk died Saturday in Germany at age 91, and his family in Seven Hills, Ohio, wants to return his body for burial.

Even though his US citizenship had been revoked and he was deported, there is no prohibition against returning the body to this country, the US attorney’s office in Cleveland said.

Margarete Noetzel, a Munich state court spokeswoman, said Tuesday that under German law, because Demjanjuk died before his final appeal could be heard and because a person is presumed innocent until proved guilty, he is still technically presumed innocent.

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But, she said, that doesn’t mean the conviction is somehow wiped from the record. “The verdict exists - it is not voided. It was pronounced and based in fact.’’

A Demjanjuk funeral in his adopted hometown would turn into a spectacle, said Efraim Zuroff, who leads the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.

“I have no doubt that a funeral in Seven Hills would turn into a demonstration of solidarity and support for Demjanjuk, who’s the last person on earth who deserves any sympathy, frankly,’’ Zuroff said in a telephone interview.

Demjanjuk had guarded his privacy carefully, posting a “no trespassing’’ sign outside his house.

His attorney appealed Monday to German authorities to arrange for his body to be sent home to Ohio.