Former Nazi death camp guard died guilty, says Nazi-hunting centre

File photo of accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk arriving in a court room for the beginning of the trial day in Munich January 12, 2010.

JERUSALEM - Former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk died guilty of helping to mass murder innocent Jews, the Israel director of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre said on Sunday.

In a statement issued a day after the police announced Demjanjuk's death, the centre said it believed there was "never any doubt" that the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk helped implemented the Nazis' "Final Solution."

"Demjanjuk died guilty of his service in the Sobibor death camp and that is how he should be remembered," the centre's Israel director Efraim Zuroff said.

"Not as a person falsely accused, but as an individual who volunteered to serve in the SS, and who at the height of his physical powers spent months helping to mass murder innocent Jews deported to that death camp."

Demjanjuk was sentenced by a Munich court in May to five years in prison after being found guilty of more than 27,000 counts of accessory to murder from the six-month period when he was a guard in Poland at the Sobibor camp in 1943.

A judge ordered him released pending an appeal, saying Demjanjuk was no longer a threat and was unlikely to abscond, being stateless, after the United States revoked his citizenship.

The conviction was the latest in a legal saga stretching decades.

In 1986, he was hauled before a court in Jerusalem accused of being "Ivan the Terrible," an infamous Ukrainian guard at the Treblinka death camp.

Found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death in 1988, he was freed five years later when evidence surfaced suggesting Israel had got the wrong man.

He returned to the United States, but when new information emerged suggesting he had served as a guard at other Nazi camps, he was stripped of his citizenship in 2002 for lying about his war record on immigration forms.

Years of legal wrangling ensued and he was deported from the United States to Germany in 2009 to face trial, this time for being at Sobibor.

In Israel, ministers and Holocaust survivors said there was no doubt about Demjanjuk's guilt.

Noah Klieger, a French-Israeli journalist and Holocaust survivor, told AFP that he regretted Demjanjuk "died so late."

"For 25 years I have condemned the fact that he was freed by Israel based on the benefit of the doubt," he said.

"It's the biggest judicial scandal in the country's history because there's no doubt in my mind that he was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka," he added.

"The judges knew that he was the criminal of Sobibor, but it took a German judge to provide the proof 20 years later and finally convict him for his crimes."

Israel's Diaspora and Information Minister Yuli Edelstein, speaking before a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, said Demjanjuk's precise role in the Holocaust was "an argument for historians."

"For the Holocaust survivors, for the Jews and for all the normal people around the world one thing is clear: after Demjanjuk's death, there is one less Nazi criminal in this world."

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said his only regret was that Demjanjuk "died before completing his punishment."

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