John Demjanjuk left prison in an unmarked vehicle on Friday for a nursing home after a judge ordered him released pending an appeal of his conviction for serving as a guard at a Nazi death camp.
Michael Stumf, director of the Stadelheim prison, said authorities had difficulty finding a home that would take in the 91-year-old on such short notice. Stumf refused to give any details about where Demjanjuk was headed, other than to say it was in the greater Munich area.
“He asked us to respect his privacy,” Stumf said.
Demjanjuk has been held in Stadelheim since he was deported to Germany two years ago to stand trial on charges of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Nazi’s Sobibor death camp. He was found guilty on Thursday and sentenced to five years in prison.
Defense attorney Ulrich Busch filed an appeal immediately after his client was convicted. He said Friday that he expects his client’s appeal to last around two years. Demjanjuk, who was born in Ukraine, is allowed to live freely during that time on grounds that he doesn’t pose a flight risk in view of his age, his frail health and the fact he is stateless.
Busch said the Ukrainian community in Munich was involved in helping find a place for Demjanjuk to live, but he declined to say where that would be, citing concerns for his client’s safety.
Demjanjuk was a Soviet Red Army soldier captured by the Germans in 1942. He is accused of then agreeing to serve as a guard, but Demjanjuk has always maintained he was a victim of the Nazis.
He emigrated to the U.S. after the war, claiming to have spent much of it in a German POW camp. He became a U.S. citizen, but his citizenship was revoked in 1981 because the Justice Department alleged he was the notoriously brutal Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible.”
He was extradited to Israel to stand trial, convicted and sentenced to death but freed when a court there overturned the ruling, saying the evidence showed he was the victim of mistaken identity. He returned to the U.S. and regained his citizenship briefly, then was deported again after German prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest in 2009.
One avenue for Demjanjuk to pursue may be a 1985 FBI report uncovered by the AP that challenged the authenticity of a Nazi ID card used as evidence in the German trial.
Still, court experts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations have since said that the card – which the defense maintains is a fake produced by the Soviet KGB – is genuine, and the Munich court ruled that it was.
This week, a federal judge in Cleveland appointed a public defender to represent Demjanjuk and indicated the ID card could be used to reopen his citizenship case.
David Leopold, an immigration attorney in Cleveland, said he doubted the FBI report would help Demjanjuk because there was other evidence against him. In either case, Leopold said, “he’s not coming back here if he’s not a citizen.”
The public defender, Dennis Terez, hasn’t indicated how he might proceed on the ID card issue. He didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.