John Demjanuk, a former Nazi death camp guard, died today in Germany at the age of 91.
CNN reports that Demjanuk was found guilty of assisting in mass murder last May in a German court and was sentenced to five years in prison. Demjanuk was a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says that Nazis killed close to 170,000 people at the death camp in Poland between 1942 and 1943. Demjanuk was charged as an accessory to 27,900 deaths and said that the killings were “motivated by racial hatred.”
Fox News reports that Demjanjuk’s conviction set a German legal precedent. Demjanjuk was convicted because he was a guard at a Nazi camp, but no evidence linked him to a specific murder.
Demjanjuk’s son said that his father died of natural causes in his sleep. Demjanjuk Jr. said:
“My father fell asleep with the Lord as a victim and survivor of Soviet and German brutality since childhood… He loved life, family and humanity. History will show Germany used him as a scapegoat to blame helpless Ukrainian POWs for the deeds of Nazi Germans.”
In the 1970s the U.S. Justice Department accused Demjanjuk, who was living in Ohio at the time, of being the Nazi guard “Ivan the Terrible.” His U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981 and in 1986 he was extradited to Israel to stand trial. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988 but evidence showing that he may not be “Ivan the Terrible” overturned the chargers in 1993.
Demjanjuk returned to the United States and had his citizenship restored. In 2002, however, his citizenship was revoked after a court ruled that Demjanjuk had hid his Nazi past when applying for citizenship in the 1950s.
Throughout his legal battles Demjanjuk insisted that he was merely a prisoner of war and was not responsible for the deaths of thousands at Sobibor. Demjanjuk said:
“I am again and again an innocent victim of the Germans… Germany is responsible for the fact that I have lost for good my whole reason to live, my family, my happiness, any future and hope.”