A German court convicted retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk of aiding the Nazis in the murder of at least 28,000 Jews at a death camp during World War II.
In a ruling that closes what may have been Germany’s last major Holocaust trial, the 91-year-old was sentenced to 5 years in prison after an 18-month trial in the Munich Regional Court.
He was found guilty of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, one for each person who died during the time he was ruled to have been a guard at the Sobibor camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943.
However, Judge Ralph Alt released Demjanjuk pending an appeal, which could take six months.
It's not unusual for people awaiting appeals in Germany to be freed — and Judge Ralph Alt said that Demjanjuk, who is stateless and was deported from the U.S. in 2009, has no opportunity to flee, the Globe and Mail reports.
Germany lifted its statute of limitation for murder in 1979, allowing prosecution of Nazi criminals to continue, according to Bloomberg. The Nazis killed an estimated 6 million Jews in death camps throughout Europe during the war.
The prosecution had asked for a six-year sentence.
Alt called Demjanjuk a piece of the Nazis’ "machinery of destruction," the Globe and Mail reports.
He said that he was convinced Demjanjuk was captured as a Russian prisoner of war in 1942 and trained as a guard at a camp in Trawniki, and that he was later transferred to Sobibor where he helped kill Jews as one of the so called "Trawniki men."
"Every Trawniki man knew that he was part of a well and smoothly operating apparatus that had no other goal than systematically murdering Jews," Alt reportedly said. "They all knew about the barbaric treatment of Jews. And the accused was part of that extermination machinery."
Demjanjuk attended court in a wheelchair and showed no reaction when the verdict was announced. He has denied the charges and the opportunity to make a final statement to the court.