The conviction of retired U.S. automaker John Demjanjuk on 28,060 counts of acting as an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp has sparked controversy due not only to the defendant’s advanced age and frail condition, but also because no evidence that Demjanjuk committed a specific crime was presented.
As the Associated Press is reporting, the 91-year-old Demjanjuk was ruled to have been a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland from March 27 to mid-September 1943, and received one count of being an accessory to murder for each person who died during that time frame. In Munich, presiding Judge Ralph Alt deemed Demjanjuk — who sat in a wheelchair and showed no reaction when the verdict was read — was a piece of the Nazis’ “machinery of destruction,” and ruled the defendant’s physical presence at the camp in itself made him an accomplice, the first time such a legal argument has been made in German courts. He has been sentenced to five years in prison, but was released pending an appeal.
Demjanjuk has repeatedly denied the charges, insisting he was held as a Nazi prisoner of war before joining the Vlasov Army, a force of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others that was formed to fight with the Germans against the Soviets in the final months of World War II. As the New York Times reports, he also has maintained that an SS identity card in his name is a fake produced by the Soviet KGB, though court experts say the card appears genuine.
Of course, Demjanjuk’s case is merely the latest in a string of elderly men convicted of Nazi war crimes in Germany. View a Timeline of recent Nazi war criminal convictions here (Click on picture to be redirected):