John Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio autoworker convicted of serving as a guard at a Nazi extermination camp and being complicit in the deaths of more than 28,000 people, died Saturday in Germany. He was 91.
Demjanjuk died in a nursing home in southern Germany as a prisoner of failing health but not of the justice system that found him guilty last year of being an accessory to mass murder. A German judge had sentenced him to five years behind bars, but he was allowed his freedom while he launched an appeal.
Until the end, the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk and his family maintained his innocence of the monstrous crimes of which he stood accused. They contended that he was the victim of mistaken identity, a former Soviet soldier who was wounded in action in World War II, then held captive by the Nazis before eventually being freed and immigrating to the United States.
But based on an old identity card that experts said proved he turned guard at the infamous Sobibor death camp, Demjanjuk was found guilty last May in a Munich court of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder.
The conviction was unprecedented, since it came purely on the grounds that he had served as a guard rather than tying him to a specific killing.
His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., who lives in Ohio, confirmed his father’s death of natural causes to the Associated Press. The elder Demjanjuk had suffered from terminal bone marrow disease and other illnesses.
“He loved life, family and humanity,” John Demjanjuk Jr. told the Associated Press.
“History will show Germany used him as a scapegoat to blame helpless Ukrainian POWs for the deeds of Nazi Germans.”
Even after his conviction in Germany last year, the family fought to have Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship reinstated so he could return to Ohio. But his requests were denied, most recently in January.