A German court convicted retired U.S. autoworker John Demjanjuk of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder on Thursday--one for each person who died while he served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. The 91-year-old, Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who denies serving as a guard and claims he was a Soviet prisoner of war, sat in a wheelchair wearing a blue hat and dark glasses and reportedly showed no reaction when the verdict was announced, choosing not to make a final statement. He was sentenced to five years in prison, though he may get credit for time already served. As the BBC notes, Demjanjuk was sentenced to death in Israel back in the 1980s for being the "notoriously sadistic" guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka death camp, only to be freed when an Israeli court ruled that he had been falsely accused.
The AP points out that the prosecution had no evidence that Demjanjuk committed a specific crime, and instead argued that "if Demjanjuk was at the camp, he was a participant in the killing--the first time such a legal argument has been made in German courts." The defense argued that a key element of the prosecution's case--an SS identity card that allegedly showed a young Demjanjuk--was fabricated by the Soviet Union, a concern the FBI shared at one point according to an AP investigation back in April.
The AP has posted a video that provides a helpful overview of today's ruling:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.