Convicted Nazi Criminal John Demjanjuk Dies at 91

Retired Ohio autoworker was found guilty of aiding the murder of 27,900 Jews at Sobibor Nazi death camp in Poland; his son says 'history will prove that Germany used my father as a scapegoat for Nazi crimes.'

Convicted Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, 91, has died in a retirement home in southern Germany, police said Saturday.

Last year, a German found the retired Ohio autoworker guilty of aiding the murder of 27,900 Jews at Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland, over several months of 1943.

 John Demjanjuk April 13, 2011

The Munich court initially sentenced him to five years in jail but then decided to release Demjanjuk, pending an appeal, due to his advanced age.

Demjanjuk had been exonerated in a separate Holocaust trial two decades ago in Israel, where he was initially sentenced to death for being the notorious "Ivan the Terrible" camp guard at Treblinka in Poland. The ruling was overturned by Israel's supreme court after new evidence exonerated him.

Holocaust survivors welcomed the guilty verdict, as did the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, where Rabbi Marvin Hier said: "John Demjanjuk's Nazi past finally caught up with him."

"Humanity owed this to the memory of the tortured and the dead," Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said, adding his "cynical manipulation of the legal system has at last been ended".

Demjanjuk - AP

Ukraine-born Demjanjuk, who was once top of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most wanted Nazi war criminals, said he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1941 then taken prisoner of war by the Germans.

Demjanjuk attended the 18-month court proceedings in Munich - birthplace of Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement -- in a wheelchair and sometimes lying down, with his family trying to argue that he was too frail to stand trial.

His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said in an e-mail ahead of the verdict that his father was a victim of the Nazis and of post-war Germany.

"While those who refuse to accept that reality may take satisfaction from this event, nothing the Munich court can do will atone for the suffering Germany has perpetrated upon him to this day," he said.

Prosecutors had faced several hurdles in proving Demjanjuk's guilt, with no surviving witnesses to his crimes and heavy reliance on wartime documents, namely a Nazi ID card that defense attorneys said was a fake made by the Soviets.

Guards at Nazi death camps like Sobibor were essential to the mass killing of Jews because extermination was the focus of such camps, prosecutors said. Some 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor, according to the Wiesenthal Center.

According to a German newspaper, Demjanjuk will be buried in Germany where the state will pay for his burial.

In an initial response to his father's death, Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr. said his father "died as a victim of Soviet and German brutality that he suffered through since childhood.”

“He loved life, his family and humans," said Demjanjuk, "History will prove that Germany used him as a scapegoat when it placed responsibility for Nazi crimes on a helpless Ukrainian prisoner of war.”

Professor Cornelius Nestler of Cologne University, who represented the victims' families in the trial, told Haaretz on Saturday that his clients "received what they had expected from his conviction, that he was held accountable for accessory to murder of their parents and siblings in Sobibor."
Despite the fact that there will be no appeal on Demjanjuk's appeal, Nestler believes that such an appeal "never had a chance to succeed."
"The evidence is clear," he says, "John Demjanjuk was a guard in Sobibor.  I hope that the written verdict of the district court in Munich, which summarizes all the evidence and makes clear that Demjanjuk participated in the mass murder in Sobibor will find the attention it deserves."