Israel's Yad Vashem welcomes Demjanjuk verdict

12th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The conviction and sentencing of former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk by a German court was on Thursday welcomed by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust institute and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

"While no trial can bring back those that were murdered, holding those responsible to justice has an important moral and educational role in society," Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement.

His remarks came shortly after a court in Munich found Demjanjuk, 91, guilty of almost 30,000 counts of accessory to murder and handed him a five-year prison sentence.

Judge Ralph Alt told the court he was convinced that Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was a guard at the Sobibor death camp "and that as guard, he took part in murder of at least 28,000 people."

Leading Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office said Demjanjuk's trial showed that even so long after the end of the Nazi era justice could still be done.

"The conviction today... sends a powerful message that those responsible for Holocaust crimes can still be held accountable even though decades have passed since they were committed," Zuroff said in a statement.

"Today's verdict is a long-awaited victory for the victims, their families and people of moral conscience," he added.

Demjanjuk served nearly eight years in an Israeli prison, five of them on death row after being found guilty in the 1980s of being the particularly sadistic "Ivan the Terrible" guard at Treblinka, another death camp.

The Israeli supreme court overturned the verdict on appeal and ordered his release on the grounds that he had likely been wrongly identified.

The former Red Army soldier was captured by German troops in 1942 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp before signing up to work as a death camp guard.

He was the first foreigner to be judged in Germany for Nazi war crimes and Yad Vashem's Shalev said his case shows that even though Hitler's Nazis masterminded the extermination of six million European Jews, the role of local helpers was crucial.

"The murder could not have taken place without the participation of myriads of Europeans on many levels," he said.

"Their role was also criminal."

© 2011 AFP

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