BY TRACY PFEIFFER
ANCHOR JIM FLINK
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Experts say he’s the lowest-ranking person ever tried for war crimes in a German court -- and now, former U.S. citizen John Demjanjuk has been handed a guilty verdict for his alleged role as a guard in a Nazi death camp. CBS has more.
JEFF GLOR, ANCHOR: “Demjanjuk, who is now 91 years old, was charged with more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder, all for deaths that occurred during World War II. The German court in Munich sentenced Demjanjuk, who is in ill health as you can see, to five years in prison.”
Ukranian-born Demjanjuk initially fought against the Germans with the Soviet Red Army in World War II. Prosecutors say after he was captured as a prisoner of war, Demjanjuk attended a Nazi training program to become a volunteer guard at the Sobibor concentration camp, where some 250,000 Jews were killed. (Video: BBC)
When his trial began, Demjanjuk was listed by a Jewish human rights organization as the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminal. A writer for the Guardian explains the accusations against him.
“The case against Demjanjuk was that he was one of the guards who forced Jewish prisoners into rooms, knowing that engine fumes were to be pumped in. Demjanjuk is then alleged to have dragged out the corpses and thrown them into a mass grave, where they were later burned in an attempt to leave no trace.”
But those accusations weren’t necessarily part of his indictments -- Sky News reports the prosecution’s case took an interesting turn, mostly because they had no living witnesses to testify against Demjanjuk.
ALEX ROSSI, SKY NEWS EUROPE CORRESPONDENT: “The first time in a Nazi war crimes trial in Germany that it’s been used -- He’s only guilty by association, not guilty they say of any specific crimes. Just being there was enough to seal a conviction, and the conviction rested on two crucial bits of evidence: Firstly, an identity card issued by the SS and also written records.”
But the tactic outraged Demjajuk’s defense team, who insist he was a victim of the Nazis and spent the time in question as a prisoner of war, not as a guard at Sobibor.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: “The trial was never worthwhile in any sense at all. John Demjanjuk is just a scapegoat for the Germans. He has to pay for all the mistakes they made in the past, and that’s not justice.” (France 24)
But the chairman of a Holocaust remembrance organization tells The Jerusalem Post, the Nazis of Germany could not have carried out their plans alone.
“The conviction today of Demjanjuk underscores the fact that even though the policies of the ‘Final Solution’ ... were set and carried out by the German Nazi regime, the murder could not have taken place without the participation of myriads of Europeans on many levels. Their role was also criminal.”
Finally, as NPR reports -- this is actually the second time Demjanjuk has been found guilty of war crimes, but his previous conviction in Israel was overturned as a case of mistaken identity.
“He's already spent eight years in an Israeli prison convicted of crimes he allegedly committed as 'Ivan the Terrible', a notorious guard at the Treblinka camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. But his conviction and death sentence were overturned after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled there was reasonable doubt he worked at that camp.”
Demjanjuk’s family and attorneys say they will appeal the decision, and the 91-year-old is currently out on bail pending appeal.
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