May 16, 2011 / 2:42 PM / in 6 years

German prosecutors appeal John Demjanjuk release

BERLIN (Reuters) - German prosecutors said on Monday they were appealing against a court decision to free convicted Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, while German investigators pursued at least two similar cases.

A Munich court convicted Demjanjuk, 91, last week in a German court of helping to kill more than 28,000 people at the Sobibor camp in German-occupied Poland during World War Two.

The Munich prosecutor’s office said it had filed an appeal against Demjanjuk’s five-year prison sentence and his immediate release from jail pending his own appeal against the verdict. Prosecutors had originally demanded a six-year sentence.

The Ukraine-born Demjanjuk was released on Friday after spending two years in jail, including the 18 months of the trial which he attended in a wheelchair, and sometimes lying down.

He is thought to have been moved to a state nursing home in the Munich area, his lawyer Guenther Maull told Reuters.

“That’s what I assume but even I don’t know,” Maull said.

Demjanjuk, who is stateless after being stripped of his U.S. citizenship before his extradition to Germany in 2009, still poses a flight risk, the prosecutor’s office said.

German investigators of Nazi-era crimes, meanwhile, have received the green light to pursue similar cases as a result of the Demjanjuk conviction.

“There are two current investigations that are quite similar to the Demjanjuk case,” Kurt Schrimm, Germany’s chief Nazi war crimes investigator, told Reuters from his office in Ludwigsburg in southwest Germany. He declined to give details of the cases.

Schrimm and his staff are investigating a total of 28 war crimes cases that could eventually be referred to prosecutors.

PRECEDENT?

With no surviving witnesses to his crimes and heavy reliance on wartime documents, prosecutors convinced the court that Demjanjuk’s presence as a guard at Sobibor was enough to demonstrate he was essential to the camp’s function.

“If Demjanjuk’s conviction will be a precedent, then it’s a wonderful development,” Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff told Reuters. “It still remains to be seen whether other people will be prosecuted in the same way that Demjanjuk was prosecuted.”

It may prove tricky to build other cases based on the Demjanjuk conviction.

What has emerged is more evidence of war crimes by German soldiers on the battlefield rather than death camps or concentration camps, said Andreas Brendel, a chief Nazi prosecutor in Dortmund.

At the moment his office -- one of three centralized Nazi crime investigation centers in Germany -- has 18 investigations underway which mostly focus on cases involving the German army rather than Hitler’s SS, which ran the death camps.

“Momentarily we don’t have any concrete cases but that could change any day,” Brendel said. “What’s always difficult is that as time goes by, suspects are getting older, get sick or die.”

Germany has no statute of limitations to murder or assisting murder, but the youngest war criminals today are about 85 years old, Brendel said.

In November last year one of the world’s most wanted Nazis, Samuel Kunz, died aged 89 before he could stand trial for helping to kill 430,000 Jews in the Holocaust -- a case Brendel’s office brought to court.

Demjanjuk was initially sentenced to death two decades ago in Israel for being the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” camp guard at Treblinka in Poland. The guilty verdict was overturned on appeal by Israel’s supreme court in 1993 after new evidence emerged pointing to a case of mistaken identity.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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