May 18, 2011- John Denjanjuk was convicted last Thursday in Munich, Germany, following an 18 month trial, of participating in forcing close to 28,000 Jews to their deaths. The retired automaker has been the subject of some three decades of legal issues about his Nazi past.
There was not obvious reaction by Demjanjuk when the court sentenced the 91 year old to five years in prison. He will probably receive some credit for time served but it was unclear how much. His defense lawyers were quick to say they will appeal his conviction.
The prosecution charged that he worked as a Nazi guard at the Polish death camp Sobibor in 1943. This is the second time he has faced prosecution. In 1988 he was convicted by an Israel court and sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned because of mistaken identity.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center listed Mr. Demjanjuk at the time of his trial in Munich as its most wanted Nazi criminal. When he arrived in a wheelchair to the courtroom he declined to make any final statements.
His family and legal counsel insisted he was too ill to face trial but doctors declared his was fit to stand trial as long as there were only two 90 minute hearings per day. The prosecution of Nazi-era criminals is more difficult today because many defendants and survivors are either very old or have died. The war has been over for 66 years so very few possible witnesses remain.
Because of the lack of specific evidence the prosecution charged that everyone that worked at the camp was responsible for what transpired.