John Demjanjuk guilty of Nazi death camp murders


Demjanjuk was said to have shown no reaction as the verdict was read out

A German court has found John Demjanjuk guilty of helping to murder more than 28,000 Jews at a Nazi death camp in World War II.

He was sentenced to five years in prison, one year less than prosecutors had asked for, but will be released pending a possible appeal.

Prosecutors said the Ukraine-born Demjanjuk, 91, was a guard at Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

He denied serving as a guard, saying he was a prisoner of war and a victim too.

Lawyers for Demjanjuk have said they will appeal against the conviction.

"The court is convinced that the defendant... served as a guard at Sobibor from 27 March 1943 to mid-September 1943," presiding Judge Ralph Alt said.

"As guard he took part in the murder of at least 28,000 people," he said.

An estimated 250,000 people died in the gas chambers at Sobibor. Demjanjuk was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of the 28,060 people who were killed there while he was a guard.

'Very emotional'

Demjanjuk, whose family says he is very ill, has been in custody since being extradited from the US in 2009.

At the scene

It was a very poignant end to a long legal process.

John Demjanjuk was leaning back in his wheelchair wearing dark glasses in a corner of the courtroom - as he was for much of the trial - saying absolutely nothing, almost seeming like he was peripheral to it.

The presiding judge stood up and leaned over him and said: "You have the last word." Demjanjuk simply shook his head no.

He was wheeled forward and the judge delivered his guilty verdict to his face.

The relatives of the dead were clearly satisfied with the verdict although for some of them it wasn't the main aim. They wanted a court in Germany to hear the details of the machinery of industrial killing and to hear that history related in the city where the Nazi party was founded.

Judge Alt said he had ordered Demjanjuk freed during his appeal as he did not pose a flight risk because of his advanced age, poor health and the fact that he was stateless following his expulsion from the US, where after the war he worked in an Ohio car factory and became an American citizen.

Judge Alt told the Associated Press news agency there were "no grounds" to hold him, adding: "It's the law, and so it's justice. I say he's guilty but it's not a final verdict."

World Jewish Congress spokesman Michael Thaidigsmann responded by saying: "For us the important thing is that he got convicted. It's not up to an organisation like us to say whether he should be in jail or not."

But the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff, while describing the conviction as "a very important victory for justice", said he was "very surprised" by the decision to free Demjanjuk.

"We don't think that that's appropriate given the heinous nature of his crimes," he said.

Born in Ukraine in 1920, Demjanjuk grew up under Soviet rule.

He was a soldier in the Red Army in 1942 when he was captured by the Germans.

Prosecutors had argued he was recruited by the Germans to be an SS camp guard and that by working at a death camp he was a participant in the killings. No evidence was produced that he committed a specific crime.

It was the first time such a legal argument was made in a German court.

Vera Dejong, relative of Sobibor victim: "He can't look us in the eye"

Central to the prosecution's case was an SS identity card indicating Demjanjuk was posted to Sobibor. The defence cast doubts on the authenticity of the card but court experts said it appeared genuine.

Demjanjuk listened to the verdict sitting in a wheelchair without responding, his eyes covered by dark glasses.

Concerns over his health led to frequent delays in the 18-month trial.

Relatives of some of the people killed at Sobibor said they were satisfied with the verdict.

"It's very emotional - it doesn't happen every day," Rudolf Salomon Cortissos - whose mother was gassed at Sobibor - told Associated Press.

Demjanjuk's son said he was relieved at the decision to free his father "because he has never deserved to sit in prison for one minute", but added that "after everything that he's gone through, it is hard to use a word like happy in any context".

Demjanjuk has already spent eight years in detention in Israel.

In the 1980s, an Israeli court identified him as "Ivan the Terrible", a notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp, and sentenced him to death.

His conviction was overturned after new evidence showed that another Ukrainian was probably responsible.


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Demjanjuk Trial


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  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I'm of eastern European heritage and have lived in Cleveland, Ohio all my life. We have followed the Demjanjuk story here since the beginning. Anyone who actually perpetrated crimes deserves punishment. Sadly, the proof is suspect and this entire process has been tainted from the beginning. The only credibility being the diligence of the Israeli court which found in Demjanjuk's favor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Was he a prisoner of war, captured by the enemy and given the choice of participating in the acts or joining the victims ? Ask yourself what would you have done to survive ? or Was he a willing sadist happy to take part and who has, and will have, plenty to time to remember the faces of those innocents he murdered. Only one person really knows, Either way he has not forgotten and that's important

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The fact that atrocities continue to be committed does not detract from Demjanjuk's guilt. The process of de-nazification post 1945 was painfully inadequate as the pitiful number of trials carried out and leniency of sentencing is testament to. Even if Demjanjuk was under order or law, authority stems from the consent of those being governed, man has the power to act as an independent moral agent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I am living in Munich and was at the trial today. This man shows no remorse. Other atrocities go on in the world but that is no reason why justice shouldn't be done! I have been to Dachau and seen the horror people were put through - I would rather be shot than be responsible for hanging a living human being from meat-hooks. This is justice for the families of those who were killed, and rightly so

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I don't think Demajanjuk should be punished for the crimes committed under orders from someone else. Besides, why do we forget that life itself returns to you what you give to others. I am sure he has been punished in his own way.


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