Demjanjuk Taken to Nursing Home

MUNICH -- John Demjanjuk was released from a Munich prison on Friday, the day after he was convicted of taking part in the murder of 28,000 Jews during World War II. He was taken to a nursing care facility to await the outcome of appeals of his conviction and five-year prison sentence.

Mr. Demjanjuk, 91, left Stadelheim prison, where he has been held for two years, at about 4:30 p.m. local time Friday according to Michael Stumpf, the prison director. Mr. Stumpf declined to disclose the name of the nursing facility, saying that Mr. Demjanjuk had requested that he not do so.

The prosecution of Mr. Demjanjuk may be one of the last major Nazi war crimes trials. A panel of judges found that, contrary to his denials, Mr. Demjanjuk, Ukrainian by birth, had worked as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943. The court found that there was no way that any guard at the death camp could not have participated in the extermination of prisoners there.

The court found that, considering his age, his infirmity and the fact the he is now a stateless person, there was little chance that he would try to flee while his appeals progress. But the order to release him Thursday presented authorities with a conundrum, because it was unclear where he would go.

The release Friday followed an intensive search by prison authorities for a facility that would accept Mr. Demjanjuk. "It was very difficult," Mr. Stumpf said.

Mr. Demjanjuk will remain free at least until the appeals process runs its course. Margarete Nötzel, a judge who is spokesman for the Munich courts, estimated that the appeals would take a year and a half, but she said two years was also plausible. Just compiling documents and transcripts from the trial could take six months, she said. Mr. Demjanjuk spent much of the trial in a bed set up in the courtroom or in a wheelchair. Mr. Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said in an e-mail Friday that his father requires weekly medical treatment for a bone marrow and blood disorder, chronic kidney disease and severe degeneration of the spine.

However, Cornelius Nestler, a law professor who acted on behalf of a dozen Holocaust victims during the trial, accused the elder Mr. Demjanjuk of "exorbitantly" exaggerating the seriousness of his ailments. During final arguments last month, Mr. Nestler noted that while Mr. Demjanjuk lay almost lifeless in the courtroom he would joke with reporters outside.

On Thursday, relatives of Sobibor victims, who were recognized as co-complainants for the trial, said they were more concerned with raising awareness of what happened at Sobibor than exacting revenge on Mr. Demjanjuk, whose two years in pretrial detention will count toward his sentence, leaving him about three years left to serve if his appeals fail.

Rudie S. Cortissos, who lost his mother in Sobibor and survived the war by hiding in Amsterdam, said on Friday that he regretted that Mr. Demjanjuk will be able to live in peace during the appeals. But Mr. Cortissos also said in an e-mail message: "It does not upset me. A decision made by judges in a democratic country like Germany should be accepted."

Under German law, defendants should not be held unless they are considered likely to flee. Still, the decision to let Mr. Demjanjuk out of jail angered some. "We feel that this is an insult to his victims and to the survivors," Rabbi Marvin Hier, a founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Los Angeles, said in a statement Thursday.

The verdict comes after decades of legal proceedings in three countries involving Mr. Demjanjuk, who emigrated to the United States after the war and became an auto worker in Ohio. After losing his American citizenship in 1985 for lying about his past, Mr. Demjanjuk was deported to Israel and accused of being a particularly brutal guard known as Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka camp in occupied Poland.

But an Israeli high court overturned his conviction and death sentence in that case in 1993, ruling that Mr. Demjanjuk was not Ivan even though it appeared he had been a guard at a different camp, Sobibor.

Mr. Demjanjuk returned to the United States, but after more years of legal proceedings he was deported to Germany in 2009 to face trial.

The long legal battle made Mr. Demjanjuk one of the most well-known war crimes suspects, even though he was said to have ranked low in the camp hierarchy.

Mr. Demjanjuk's defense lawyers argued that an SS identity card and other documents were falsified by the Soviets. But Judge Alt said there was a clear trail of documents and testimony that demonstrated Mr. Demjanjuk's path from Soviet prisoner of war to Sobibor guard.

Jack Ewing reported from Munich, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Stefan Pauly contributed reporting from Berlin.

[Source: By Jack Ewing and Alan Cowell, The New York Times, 13May11]

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