18 Mar 2012

Nazi war criminal dies in rest home

8:30 am on 18 March 2012

The Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk has died at a rest home in Germany aged 91.

He was convicted last year of being an accessory to the murder of 28,000 people at the Sobibor concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

A German court sentenced him to five years in prison, but he was subsequently released because of his age.

The court said Demjanjuk was a guard at Sobibor in 1943. He denied this, saying he was a prisoner of war and a victim too.

An estimated 250,000 people died in the gas chambers at Sobibor. Demjanjuk was convicted in relation to those who were killed while he was a guard.

No evidence of specific crime

Born in Ukraine in 1920, Demjanjuk grew up under Soviet rule. He was a soldier in the Red Army in 1942 when he was captured by the Germans.

Prosecutors had argued he was recruited by the Germans to be an SS camp guard and that by working at a death camp he was a participant in the killings. No evidence was produced that he committed a specific crime.

The BBC reports it was the first time such a legal argument had been made in a German court.

Central to the prosecution's case was an SS identity card indicating Demjanjuk had been posted to Sobibor. The defence cast doubts on the authenticity of the card but court experts said it appeared genuine.