Nazi guard jailed for five years in Germany

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A German court on Thursday found former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, 91, guilty of almost 30,000 counts of accessory to murder and gave him a five-year prison sentence.

Judge Ralph Alt told the court in Munich 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."

Demjanjuk, deported in 2009 from the United States, where he had lived for several decades after World War II, listened to the sentence in his wheelchair and was then moved to a stretcher in the courtroom.

As the judge read out his decision, an interpreter translated into Ukrainian for Demjanjuk, who kept on his dark glasses and did not move.

Prosecutors had called for a six-year sentence and the defence had called for him to be acquitted. Demjanjuk's lawyer said before the verdict was announced that he planned to appeal.

Demjanjuk had been brought into the packed courtroom in a wheelchair on Thursday, as usual, wearing a light-blue baseball cap, dark glasses and an army-like green coat which he took off after arriving.

Drinking a glass of water, he was moved to a bed in the courtroom and then appeared to be asleep. During the morning session he was offered the chance for the last time to address the court, but he declined.

Demjanjuk has kept silent throughout the 18 months of proceedings, sitting in a wheelchair or lying on a stretcher. His health was often a cause for concern during the trial, leading to frequent delays.

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.

The prosecution has argued that if he worked as a camp guard, by definition, he is guilty of helping to kill all the Jews sent there at the time.

The high-profile trial, seen as one of the last to involve an alleged Nazi war criminal, has led to much soul-searching on the subject of delayed justice.

The fact that the accused was a Ukrainian-born prisoner-of-war who now faces justice at the hands of the nation behind the Holocaust has also raised questions.

He is in fact the first foreigner to be judged in Germany for Nazi war crimes.

His lawyer, Ulrich Busch, has described him as "a victim of Germany's justice system".

The accused, who says he remained a prisoner-of-war until the end of hostilities in 1945, later emigrated to the United States where he married, had children and worked as an auto mechanic.

He is now stateless, having been stripped of his US citizenship for lying about his past in his immigration application before being deported to Germany where he has been in jail for the past two years.

Earlier he 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 later overturned the verdict and ordered his release on the grounds that he had likely been wrongly identified.

Serge Klarsfeld, a French lawyer and Nazi hunter, has expressed frustration with the trial, saying it failed to provide new details about the case and could not prove Demjanjuk's direct participation in the killings.

"The witnesses are all dead and there are no documents because he was only a small fish," Klarsfeld told AFP. A guilty verdict "would open the door to accusations of unfair justice," he added.

Much of the case for the prosecution rides on whether an identity card -- number 1393 -- 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, is genuine and belonged to the accused.

The defence insists it is a fake, adding that no witnesses could place him at the camp.

Cornelius Nestler, a lawyer for the co-plaintiffs, relatives of those killed at Sobibor, said Germany was duty-bound to prosecute Demjanjuk even though the crimes were committed years ago.

"The judicial system and society do not have the right to ignore the facts, saying we just don't want to look at this any more, as used to be the case in the 1950s and 1960s when much of society and much of the justice system felt this way," he told the court.

© 2011 AFP

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