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Nazi death camp guard Demjanjuk dies

The Local · 17 Mar 2012, 13:58

Published: 17 Mar 2012 12:50 GMT+01:00
Updated: 17 Mar 2012 13:58 GMT+01:00

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The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was convicted last May of helping to herd some 28,000 men, women and children into the gas chambers at the notorious Sobibor death camp in what was billed as one of Germany's last major war crimes trials.

Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison but was immediately released pending appeal and moved into an old people's home in the sleepy Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach.

He spent nearly two years in German custody.

Demjanjuk, who was stateless, was barred from leaving Germany and judge Ralph Alt said upon his conviction that he would "live out the rest of his life away from his family" in the United States.

The Munich trial was not the first for the burly Demjanjuk who emigrated to the United States after the war.

In 1986, he stood trial in Jerusalem accused of being "Ivan the Terrible," an infamous Ukrainian guard at another death camp, Treblinka. Even in Treblinka, where beatings, gassing and torture were part of the daily routine, "Ivan the Terrible" is said to have stood out for his perverse sadism.

After a lengthy trial, Demjanjuk was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death in 1988, only to be freed five years later when evidence surfaced proving Israel had got the wrong man.

Demjanjuk flew back to his home in Seven Hills, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, in business class, hoping to put his past behind him.

But prosecutors were not finished with him. After evidence emerged that he served as a guard at other Nazi camps, he was stripped of his US citizenship in 2002 for lying about his war record on immigration forms.

After years of legal wrangling, he was deported from the US to Germany in 2009 to face a new trial.

Demjanjuk has always denied working at any death camp. He said he was captured by the Germans in 1942 while serving with the Red Army, then shunted around several POW camps until the war ended.

He then worked for various refugee organisations before moving to Ohio.

During the war millions of Soviet prisoners of war died in captivity, either murdered by the Germans or from cold and hunger.

But Demjanjuk was offered a way out when he was recruited to work as a guard, the court decided. He was trained at the special SS Trawniki training camp in occupied southeastern Poland before being moved to Sobibor, now on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Prosecutors rested their case on a green SS identity card issued at Trawniki - number 1393 - for a Ukrainian called Ivan Demjanjuk, John's original name.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 men are believed to have been trained at Trawniki from September 1941 to its closure two years later, according to Stefan Kühl, a professor of military sociology at the University of Bielefeld in Germany.

Most were Ukrainians, from the Baltic states, Poles or so-called Volga Germans, ethnic Germans who had been living in Russia for centuries.

They were known as "Trawnikis," "Hiwis" (shorthand for "Hilfswilliger" or "someone willing to help"), or "Askaris" (the name given to black troops serving with the German imperial army in southwestern Africa in the early 1900s).

Asked during his Jerusalem trial whether he had ever killed anyone in his life, Demjanjuk cried plaintively, "Never. I cannot even kill a chicken. My wife invariably did it."

He lived a quiet and unassuming life for years in the US, working as a Ford car mechanic, going to church and bringing up his three children with wife Vera.

Story continues below…

Der Spiegel magazine spoke to a neighbour of the Demjanjuks who said the accused Nazi henchman's main preoccupation was the vegetable garden that he lovingly tended.

"My dad is a survivor of the genocide famine in Ukraine, of the war fighting the Nazis, of the Nazi POW camps where millions were murdered by a torturous starvation, of the wrongful death sentence in Israel and now of Germany's attempt to finish the job left unfinished by Hitler's real henchmen," said his son, also called John.

Because of ill health the accused attended his German trial either in a wheelchair or lying on a bed, wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap.

During the proceedings in Jerusalem, he occasionally infuriated spectators by blowing kisses, performing stretching exercises and once shouting at a witness.

But he barely spoke during the later legal battle.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:01 March 17, 2012 by Bavaria Mike
I really hope these Nazi witch hunts are over. Any idea what his trial cost? Then to set him free, place him in a nursing home in Germany and in a Hartz IV status so we can pay his bills. If it really was him, it was not his war, he didn't start it, he did what he could to survive a war that was not started by his country as a prisoner and was probably following orders!
20:00 March 17, 2012 by rajkshan
This is one of the stupid thing that has been carrying on after so many years of war,spending unlimited money for nothing. He was not a General nor comander nor instructor nor etc etc. Spending so much of money which could in turn can be spent for the good welfare of the poor. There has to be an end to this.
08:29 March 18, 2012 by hereward
A very good thing that this travesty of justice is over,now perhaps the German courts will stop making complete fools of themselves,and remember what the purpose of justice is ,though they still delight in imprisoning people for the sounds that come out of thier mouths,now they can begin to prosecute soviet war crimes,unfortunately the moment that they do the russians will turn the gas off.
09:05 March 18, 2012 by raandy
This person was a Trawniki man from the Ukraine. The Nazi's gave him and others they deemed useful after capture a chance to be trained as a guard in the camps or worked and starved to death like many other untermensch from the Ukraine.He no longer could return to the USSR,as he was now a Nazi collaborator and would be shot on his return.

His duties as a guard would not have made any difference in the outcome of the Jews that Hitler exterminated.To hold him culpable for the crimes of the Nazis is ridiculous. He was as much a victim as all the others. This was a political trial, not justice.
09:22 March 18, 2012 by klaus stoiber
My heart goes out to this gentleman, a person who had to live with unfair guilt right up until his death. When someone such as he, was captured by us, he went to a POW camp and these camps were, sadly, well known to starve people to death.

What would YOU do in such a case? Starve to death? Die from curable diseases? Its well known that the only real option of surviving the pain, agony and mental distress, was to partake in gaurding concentration camps. It was a case of "either I survive and they die, or we ALL die". Its human nature to want to survive,nobody wants to die after a long drawn out period of endless suffering. When you are in a POW camp, u have no idea of whats really happening at the battle lines. When his nightmare started in 1941, Germany was seen to be "on top of business", in other words, they were gonna win,so what does one do in such a case? Die with other POWs? Be allowed to be tortured when u can get a chance, even though freedom from torture was the option of torturing others? What would YOU the reader do?

Many people were FORCED to partake in atrocities not because they wanted to, not because they enjoyed it, but because they were FORCED to do so.

Demjanjuk, in my books, still hasnt been proven,without a doubt to have actually been at those sights the claimants say he was.

These Nazi hunters have a serious psychological problem, and its called Hitleritis. Due to the allies inability to capture Hitler and Göbbels, because of their suicides, they were unable to put them on trial and let them experience a humiliating death such as Keitel, they have now turned to these silly Nazi hunting tactics and create stupid movies such as Inglourious Basterds,where in this movie, Hitler actually gets murdered.Its their way of creating psychological peace, by nazi hunting and placing innocent people on trial, because they cant accept what Hitler and friends did to them during WW2,and that he escaped a trial

May John Demjanjuk's soul finally find peace now,from all this madness.
20:14 March 18, 2012 by tommy2shoes
He will someday be brought back to life for the judgement of torment, forever and ever. There will be no, and I mean NO end....:))
14:26 March 19, 2012 by Michael R
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and many other such organisations are watching Germany's every move. The country is a slave to its own history and certain of its victims are very vindictive.
21:02 March 19, 2012 by richwad
What's a poor Nazi to do? Sheesh, imagine they wouldn't leave him alone. After all, he was just following orders to guard women and children as they were being butchered by the brave soldiers.

I don't know what's more efffed up, this guy or the comments above.

During the Nuremberg trials, other guards and torturers said the exact same thing that they were simply following orders. Pff, nothing more than animals and eventually most of them got what they deserved.
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