John Demjanjuk Dead: Accused Nazi Guard Dies At 91
By John Caniglia
Religion News Service
CLEVELAND (RNS) Former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk died Saturday (March 17) in Germany, ending nearly 35 years of legal battles with officials in three countries who claimed he was a guard in a Nazi death camp. He was 91.
During his decades-long trials, Demjanjuk was
imprisoned in the
A German court sentenced Demjanjuk to five years in prison but he was freed while he appealed the conviction.
Demjanjuk had been living in a nursing home in Bad
Feilnbach in southern
Demjanjuk was deported after
The cause of death was unclear, though Demjanjuk's
family has said he suffered incurable bone marrow disease. His family and
friends have said he was weakened by the legal fight with the
"My father fell asleep with the Lord as a victim and survivor of Soviet
and German brutality since childhood," Demjanjuk's
son, John Jr., told The Associated Press. "He loved life, family and
humanity. History will show
Demjanjuk's family fought for weeks in 2009 to
prevent the deportation to
His case fueled a bitter debate over suspected Nazi war criminals: Should men in the last years of their lives face deportation and war-crimes trials for something that happened more than 65 years ago in the midst of war?
"Demjanjuk shows the Justice Department's
determination to do the right thing, no matter the passage of time, to bring
Nazi war criminals to justice," Alan Rosenbaum, a
"It's most fitting that he died in
Demjanjuk's family can have the body returned to
Attorney Joseph McGinness, who over the last two decades has represented guards who patrolled the perimeter of concentration camps, said the government wasted its time and tax dollars in dealing with Demjanjuk and others.
"These were nobodies -- if in fact they were even there," McGinness said Saturday. "They weren't the people making the decisions in the camps. There was no reason to chase any of them. None of them had a rank above private. Every one of these people was nothing. They were draftees."
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk claimed he was drafted by the Soviet army during World War II, and was later captured by Germans and spent most of the war years in a series of prisoner-of-war camps.
After the war, afraid for his safety if he returned to
In 1977, using a Nazi identification card with Demjanjuk's
name, birth date and parentage, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to
revoke Demjanjuk's citizenship, charging that he
The Justice Department found nearly a dozen survivors of the Nazi death camp at Treblinka. They identified Demjanjuk as "Ivan the Terrible," a Ukrainian guard who tortured Jewish inmates and operated the gas chambers that exterminated an estimated 900,000 people, mostly Jews, during the war.
Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship in 1981
and was ordered to be deported. In 1986, Demjanjuk
became the second accused Nazi war criminal ever taken to
In 1998, a federal judge reinstated Demjanjuk's
citizenship, but the Justice Department reopened the case a year later. In
2002, a judge ruled that Demjanjuk and other
Nazi-trained guards led Jews off the trains in
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 2004, and an immigration
judge ordered his deportation to
After several high-stakes appeals, Demjanjuk
was taken from his
After an 18-month trial, the ailing Demjanjuk was convicted in May 2011 and was placed in a German nursing home. His attorneys, however, kept fighting.
"We had far, far more of this story to tell, and we were in the midst
of trying to do that," said Dennis Terez, the
federal public defender in
Federal prosecutors offered another side.
"This marks the end of a decades-long effort in multiple countries that
ultimately established the truth about John Demjanjuk's
Holocaust crimes," said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach
(John Caniglia writes for The Plain Dealer