Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk dies a free man

By Jennifer Lipman, March 17, 2012
John Demjanjuk

John Demjanjuk

A man sentenced to five years in jail last May for his role in the mass murder of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust has died at the age of 91.

John Demjanjuk was convicted of being an accessory to the deaths of more than 28,000 people while he was a guard at Sobibor concentration camp.

After his conviction prosecutors agreed he could remain free pending an appeal. He died earlier today as a free man, in a nursing home in Germany.

Demjanjuk’s trial, which was delayed over questions about his health, will likely be one of the last case of Nazi-era war crimes to be tried in Germany.

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk always claimed he was a victim of the Nazis, but a judge found that he agreed to serve as a guard.

Demjanjuk avoided justice for years, emigrating to Ohio and building a family and a career as a mechanic. In 1988 he was deported and sentenced to death in Israel, but the sentence was later overturned on the grounds of mistaken identity. It took another two decades for a Munich court to file charges against him.

Demjanjuk’s son, who said Demjanjuk died of natural causes, maintained today that his father was innocent.

The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews said that he believed it had been the right decision to put Demjanjuk on trial.

"A death is always tragic,” said Dieter Graumann. But he added: “Justice does not know a statute of limitation, and age does not protect from punishment. This was never about revenge, but about justice.”

Last updated: 7:52pm, March 17 2012