Kyiv Post | 13May2011 | Reuters

Lawyer: Convicted Nazi guard Demjanjuk needs a home

BERLIN, May 13, 2011 (Reuters) -- Authorities in Germany are searching for a place for 91-year-old convicted Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk to live while he is free on appeal, one of his lawyers said on Friday.

Demjanjuk was convicted on Thursday in a Munich court of helping to kill more than 28,000 people at the Sobibor camp in Poland in the Holocaust during World War Two.

Sentenced to five years in prison, he was immediately set free because of his age and left custody on Friday, though his immediate destination was not known.

"They're searching for a place for him to stay," defence lawyer Guenther Maull told Reuters. "I can't say whether they'll immediately find a permanent residence or something temporary."

Ukraine-born Demjanjuk has been in German jail since he was extradited from the United States two years ago and his lawyers had sought his release on age and health grounds.

He attended the 1-1/2 year trial in a wheelchair and sometimes lying down.

Maull said the appeal will take at least a year to go through required legal procedures, and maybe longer.

In the meantime, Demjanjuk, who is stateless after being stripped of his U.S. citizenship, will need to live in a nursing home in Germany, Maull said.

"The government will have to support him," he said. "It's very clear he needs social assistance and he needs to be housed where he can receive medication."

Demjanjuk, who was once atop the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most wanted Nazi war criminals, said he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1941 and then taken prisoner by the Germans.

Prosecutors convinced the court that Demjanjuk was trained by the Nazis as a camp guard and then served at the Sobibor extermination camp from March-September 1943, while at least 28,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed there.

Estimates put the total dead at Sobibor at some 250,000.

The Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff expressed dismay at the court's decision to free Demjanjuk.

"My feeling is that that is not an appropriate step, given the severity of the crimes he was just convicted of," Zuroff said. "He wasn't brought to court for failing to help an old lady cross the street."

Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalised citizen in 1958, working as an engine mechanic in Ohio.