John Demjanjuk, 91, freed pending a possible appeal and because of his advanced age

A German court on Thursday sentenced the former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, 91, to five years in jail but then freed him pending a possible appeal and because of his advanced age.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was convicted of helping to kill almost 30,000 people while a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland in 1943.

But presiding judge Ralph Alt ordered his immediate release, pending a final decision by a federal court and possible appeal, saying the accused no longer posed a threat to society.

He has also spent the past two years in jail here and, as a stateless person, having been stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 2002, was unlikely to be able to leave the country.

Second time

This was the second time Demjanjuk, a retired auto factory worker, was sentenced in connection with Nazi crimes.

In the 1980s he was sentenced to death in Israel after a court found him guilty of being “Ivan the Terrible,” the name given to a sadistic Ukrainian guard at the Treblinka death camp.

But the Supreme Court later overturned the decision after establishing they had the wrong man.

On Thursday, following an 18-month trial, a German court decided he had indeed served as a guard, but under his original name “Ivan Demjanjuk,” and at Sobibor.

His German judges said they were convinced he had assisted in the killing of at least 28,060 people, most of them Jews, was deported to Sobibor and immediately gassed there between April and August 1943.

The court said Demjanjuk, a former Red Army soldier captured during the war by the Germans, accepted an offer to serve Nazi forces as a prison guard and served at Sobibor from March to September 1943.

He was automatically guilty of assisting in the killings because of the nature of his job there, it found.

Demjanjuk, who pleaded not guilty, kept silent during the trial. On Thursday, throughout the trial, he appeared in a wheelchair before being laid down on a hospital bed, his eyes shielded by dark glasses. He appeared not to follow the case as relayed to him in Ukrainian by an interpreter. “He's been playing a comedy all the while,” said Dutch-born Vera de Jong, 71, who lost both her parents, a grandmother and an aunt at Sobibor.

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