John Demjanjuk – a former Nazi guard at Sobibor believed to be “Ivan the Terrible” – died before serving even one year of his five year prison sentence.
Demjanjuk, 91, was found guilty last May in a German court of assisting in mass murder as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland during WWII and sentenced to five years in prison.
Munich state prosecutors charged Demjanjuk as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 of the 167,000 Sobibor victims, and the court found the killings were motivated by racial hatred.
Demjanjuk- a native of Soviet Ukraine – denied the charges, arguing that he was a prisoner of war who was forced to do what the Nazis wanted.
Demjanjuk moved to the U.S. after World War II, raised a family and worked in the auto industry in Ohio. After a long legal battle, he was extradited from the United States in 2009 to face trial.
The U.S. Department of Justice first accused Demjanjuk of being a Nazi guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” in the 1970s. His U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981, and he was extradited to Israel in 1986.
In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted in an Israeli court and sentenced to death, but that conviction was overturned in 1993 amid evidence that someone else was “Ivan the Terrible.”
Although a U.S. federal court restored Demjanjuk’s citizenship after his 1988 conviction, his citizenship was revoked again in 2002 after a federal judge ruled that his 1952 entry into the United States was illegal because he hid his past as a Nazi guard.
Demjanjuk’s role as a Nazi guard at Sobibor is an unsettling reminder of the danger inherent in “group mentality.” His trial in Germany may be the last time that an accused Nazi-era war criminal stands trial. If so, it marks the culmination of a 65 year period of prosecutions that began with the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
For more information see: