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Demjanjuk stays in prison voluntarily before heading to nursing home

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Demjanjuk guilty of Nazi war crimes
  • He was convicted Thursday in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews
  • The 91-year-old Ukraine native was sentenced to five years in prison
  • The former Ohio auto worker was freed pending an appeal
  • German prison officials had to find him a nursing home on short notice

(CNN) -- War criminal John Demjanjuk has been released after voluntarily spending time in prison while German prison officials found a nursing home able to take him on short notice, the officials said Friday.

Demjanjuk had been freed pending an appeal after being convicted Thursday in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews at a Nazi concentration camp, capping a 30-year legal saga.

"He came back to our prison voluntarily yesterday even though he was a free man" during the appeal, said Michael Stumpf, the director of the Stadelheim prison in Munich.

The regional court in Munich found Demjanjuk guilty of assisting in mass murder as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland. The 91-year-old Ukraine native was sentenced to five years in prison, but was allowed to remain free pending appeal due to age and a lack of flight risk.

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"The guards knew exactly what would happen to the people arriving at the camp, from everyday abuse to gruesome murders," the court said in announcing the verdict. Duties rotated around the camp, "so that every single guard would be involved in all parts of the process," it said.

Demjanjuk's defense argued that he was a prisoner of war who was forced to do what the Nazis wanted. But the court rejected that claim, concluding that Demjanjuk could have fled "despite a certain degree of risk for himself."

The Nazis and their sympathizers killed at least 167,000 people at Sobibor in 1942 and 1943, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Munich state prosecutors charged Demjanjuk as an accessory to about 27,900 of those deaths, and the court found the killings were "motivated by racial hatred."

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of six years in what is likely the last major Nazi war crimes trial in Germany.

Jewish groups hailed the verdict soon after it was announced. Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, said the trial and ruling show there is no statute of limitations for the crimes of the Holocaust.

The accusations against Demjanjuk date to the late 1970s, when the U.S. Justice Department accused him of being a Nazi guard known as "Ivan the Terrible." His U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981, and he was extradited to Israel in 1986.

He was convicted in an Israeli court in 1988 and sentenced to death, but that conviction was overturned in 1993 amid evidence that someone else was "Ivan the Terrible."

A U.S. federal court restored Demjanjuk's citizenship, ruling that the government withheld evidence supporting his case. But the onetime Ohio auto worker's citizenship was revoked again in 2002 after a federal judge ruled that his 1952 entry into the United States was illegal because he hid his past as a Nazi guard.

CNN's Roman Lehberger contributed to this report.