Demjanjuk sentenced to 5 year jail term in Germany, appeals decision (Updated)
Sad news out of Germany as Demjanjuk has been sentenced to 5 years in prison for being an alleged ‘Nazi guard’ while being a Red Army POW, a stark contrast to the many high-ranking German Nazis who were never brought to trial by their own government:
A court in Germany has found John Demjanjuk guilty of helping kill nearly 28,000 Jews in a Nazi concentration camp.
The 91-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison by a Munich court on Thursday as an accessory to mass murder during his time as a guard at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.
Earlier in the day Demjanjuk rejected an offer to make a final plea as 18-month trial came to a close.
Asked by judges whether he wanted to say any final words, Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, speaking through an interpreter, replied: “No”.
The judges also rejected requests by the defence to seek more evidence in the trial.
New German precedence – no proof of crime needed
There was no evidence that Demjanjuk committed a specific crime. The prosecution was based on the theory that if Demjanjuk was at the camp, he was a participant in the killing — the first time such a legal argument has been made in German courts.
Thomas Walther, who led the investigation that prompted Germany to prosecute Demjanjuk, said before the verdict that other low-ranking Nazi helpers could now face prosecution.
“It could be very soon that more are brought to the table,” he said. “This case is a door-opener.”
Same evidence from prior trials – already proved forgery by USSR
Much of the case for the prosecution had rested on whether an identity card, made out by the SS to one Ivan Demjanjuk who was trained with them to become a prison guard and who was sent to Sobibor, was genuine and belonged to the accused.
The defence insisted it was a fake.
This is the same ID the FBI has scrutinized as being fabricated by the Soviet Union, but their testimony was not accepted into the trial:
The newly declassified FBI field office report, obtained by The Associated Press, casts doubt on the authenticity of a Nazi ID card that is the key piece of evidence in allegations that Demjanjuk served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.
The FBI agents argued that the Soviets had an interest in faking the documents as part of a campaign to smear anti-communist emigres. Those conclusions contradict the findings of another branch of the Department of Justice, the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI, which was in charge of the overall Demjanjuk probe.
It is unclear whether prosecutors in the U.S. and Israel knew about it.
The March 4, 1985, report, on FBI letterhead and marked “SECRET,” says the Cleveland office’s investigation “strongly indicated” a Soviet scheme to discredit “prominent emigre dissidents speaking out publicly and/or leading emigre groups in opposition to the Soviet leadership in the USSR.”
The defense has argued throughout the trial that the ID card is a clever fake, noting that Demjanjuk’s height and eye color don’t match and alleging there are indications the photograph was taken from old identity papers and glued to the card.
The OSI in the past has been accused of withholding evidence that could have cleared Demjanjuk.
In a 1993 review of the American denaturalization hearing that led to his extradition, a federal U.S. appeals panel concluded that the OSI engaged in “prosecutorial misconduct that seriously misled the court.”
A Department of Justice report from 2008 made public last November said the OSI’s handling of the Demjanjuk case was “the greatest mistake it ever made.”
The FBI report accuses the Soviets of anonymously feeding names of emigres to the United States as suspected Nazis. The OSI would then ask the Soviet Union for evidence from captured Nazi records, and “the KGB produces a record purporting to tie the accused with the commission of Nazi atrocities,” it said.
“In court, the KGB officer thereupon ‘shows’ the documents to the judge but does not permit the documents to be presented in evidence or to be otherwise copied,” it adds.
Some background on this case
Demjanjuk was accused of working for six months at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland in 1943, during which time 27,900 Jews were gassed to death there.
The prosecution argued that if he worked as a camp guard, by definition, he was guilty of helping to kill all the Jews sent there at the time.
Demjanjuk said he fought in the Red Army before being captured by the Germans in 1942, and said that although he was recruited as a camp guard, he was not placed at Sobibor.
He said he remained a prisoner-of-war until the end of 1945, and later emigrated to the United States where he married and had a family.
Demjanjuk served nearly eight years in an Israeli prison, five of them on death row after being found guilty in the 1980s of serving as a guard in another death camp – Treblinka – where he went by the name “Ivan the Terrible”.
The Israeli supreme court later overturned the verdict and ordered his release on the grounds that he had likely been wrongly identified.
The verdict is not final, as it is being appealed:
A German court has ordered John Demjanjuk released pending an appeal of his conviction as an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp.
Presiding Judge Ralph Alt made the announcement as he wrapped up his verdict Thursday in the 91-year-old’s trial. It could take six months or more for an appeal verdict to come.
The Wisenthal Centre which has been behind all of Demjanjuk’s prosecution failed to convict him as Ivan The Terrible in Treblinka in the 1980’s. During that trail the Centre was already preparing for this Sobibor case, and if the appeal comes through, the next stop in this witch hunt is already planned in Spain for Flossenburg.
Update: Here’s a video of Demjanjuk’s son, John Jr.: