Demjanjuk Convicted in 27,900 Murders
The former Ohio auto worker was charged with being an accessory to Nazi war crimes.
John Demjanjuk (Getty Images)
He was sentenced to five years in prison, the court told CNN. But he was freed soon after, pending appeal, a source close to the court told CNN. The court did not consider him a flight risk because he is not a citizen of any country and cannot leave Germany, the source said.
German prosecutors accused the 91-year-old former Ohio auto worker of being a guard at the notorious Nazi death camp of Sobibor in Poland. He was charged with being an accessory to about 27,900 murders.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of six years in what is likely the last major Nazi war crimes trial in Germany.
Demjanjuk declined to address the court Thursday before the verdict was handed down, German press reports said.
He did not speak once during the trial, the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.
Jewish groups hailed the verdict soon after it was announced.
Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, said the trial and ruling showed there was no statute of limitations for the crimes of the Holocaust.
"While no trial can bring back those that were murdered, holding those responsible to justice has an important moral and educational role in society," museum chairman Avner Shalev said.
"The conviction today of Demjanjuk underscores the fact that even though the policies of the 'Final Solution' -- the systematic murder of 6 million European Jews -- were set and carried out by the German Nazi regime, the murder could not have taken place without the participation of myriads of Europeans on many levels. Their role was also criminal," he added.
"Despite endless and sometimes dubious attempts by Mr. Demjanjuk's defense to discredit this trial, the judges have now handed down a clear verdict," said Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.
"Although he did not cooperate with the court in any way or admit remorse, Mr. Demjanjuk received a fair trial and a mild sentence, considering his actions at Sobibor," Lauder added.
Demjanjuk's defense team argued that he was a prisoner of war who was forced to do what the Nazis wanted.
The Munich state prosecutor brought the charges against Demjanjuk for his alleged role at Sobibor, where the Nazis and their sympathizers killed at least 167,000 people, according to the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum.
His trial opened in November 2009, after he was stripped of United States citizenship and deported to Germany. It took a year longer than expected.
The accusations against Demjanjuk date to the late 1970s, when the U.S. Justice Department accused him of being a Nazi guard known as "Ivan the Terrible." His U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981, and he was extradited to Israel in 1986.
Demjanjuk was convicted in an Israeli court in 1988 and sentenced to death, but that conviction was overturned in 1993 amid evidence that someone else was "Ivan the Terrible."
A U.S. federal court restored Demjanjuk's citizenship, ruling the government withheld evidence supporting his case.
But his citizenship was revoked again in 2002 after a federal judge ruled that his 1952 entry into the United States was illegal because he hid his past as a Nazi guard.
Demjanjuk lost a U.S. Supreme Court case against his deportation. His lawyers had asked the high court to consider their claims that he was too ill and frail to be sent overseas. They also raised human rights and other legal issues.
After decades spent fighting accusations that he was a Nazi camp guard, Demjanjuk changed his line of defense when the Munich trial opened 18 months ago.
The native Ukrainian was a prisoner of war during the conflict, and would have been killed had he not done what the Nazis ordered, his defense team argued.
Defense attorney Ulrich Busch said when the trial began that the court was imposing a "moral and judicial double standard."
The guards forced to help the Nazis were "victims, not culprits -- survivors, not murderers," Busch said.
Higher-ranking German SS officers in a similar situation have been found not guilty of war crimes, the defense argued.
About 30 relatives of victims joined the prosecution case. In Germany, it is possible for the families to join the prosecution case as co-plaintiffs, representing named individuals who died in the death camps.
There are very few remaining survivors of Sobibor.
Demjanjuk's defenders say he was a Soviet prisoner of war sent to the Trawniki concentration camp, where Nazis trained prisoners to assist with the extermination of about 2 million Jews in occupied Poland. Those prisoners of war had no choice but to assist, the defense said.
The German court originally accused him of complicity in about 29,000 murders. The prosecutor's office said it revised the number to about 27,900 murders because some of those who had allegedly died in the camp when Demjanjuk was there were already dead during the transport to Sobibor.