'Last Nazi' Demjanjuk guilty, but goes free

By Toby Axelrod, May 19, 2011
Follow The JC on Twitter
Justice finally prevails: John Demjanjuk after his conviction for mass-murder in Munich last week

Justice finally prevails: John Demjanjuk after his conviction for mass-murder in Munich last week

Relief washed over the Munich courtroom as John Demjanjuk was pronounced guilty of war crimes.

But among Jewish observers there were mixed feelings about his release from Stadelheim prison, pending appeal.

While co-plaintiffs said they respected the court's decision to temporarily free Demjanjuk, prosecutors challenged the decision - and the sentence itself.

The reason for the appeal will not be known until the court releases it in writing - and that could take months.

After more than three decades in various courtrooms, the 91-year-old Ukrainian was convicted - largely on the strength of an SS ID card - of complicity in at least 27,900 murders at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.

"For the last days of his life he is confirmed as a perpetrator," said Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

He described the ruling as "a very important step in the direction of justice, after more than 65 years of injustice".

In fact, the case represents a new approach to prosecution of Nazi-era war criminals, Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff said, adding that until a few years ago, German courts prosecuted virtually only German-born defendants.

The trial involved 93 court dates over one and a half years. It drew the world's attention again to the horrors of the so-called "Final Solution", as historians, relatives of Sobibor victims and two of the few survivors provided riveting, and at times highly emotional testimonies.

Demjanjuk's chief attorney, Ulrich Busch, insisted throughout that his client - usually present in the courtroom on a hospital bed - was as much a victim of Nazi Germany as the Jews were.

The claim drew reactions of disgust from co-plaintiffs, lawyers and judges alike.

V see comment, p33

Last updated: 1:34pm, May 19 2011