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Demjanjuk convicted over Nazi camp deaths

May 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
John Demjanjuk, a 91-year-old retired U.S. auto worker, was found guilty on Thursday of being an accessory to murder in a Nazi death camp.

Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court on thousands of counts - one for each person who died during the time he was ruled to have been a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Presiding Judge Ralph Alt called Demjanjuk a piece of the Nazis' "machinery of destruction." He was sentenced to five years in prison, but Alt ordered him released pending appeal.

It was a groundbreaking verdict that closed one chapter in a decades-long legal battle.

After the sentencing, Demjanjuk left the courtroom in his wheelchair without speaking. He has denied the charges, but declined the opportunity to make a final statement to the court.

"John Demjanjuk is just the scapegoat for the Germans. He has to pay for all the mistakes they made in the past," said defense attorney Ulrich Busch.

There was no evidence that Demjanjuk committed a specific crime. The prosecution was based on the theory 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 relatives (of the Nazi victims), they think it is absolutely necessary that everybody who participated in murdering their family has to face this responsibility to the end of his life," said Cornelius Nestler, lawyer for the families of Sobibor victims.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk has been stripped of his U.S. citizenship and has been in custody in Germany since his deportation two years ago.

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