In Bad Feilnbach, a postcard-perfect spa town in the Bavarian Alps, residents are crying NIMBY. It’s not a cell phone tower or nuclear energy plant they are concerned about, but rather something many find even more toxic — convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk.
The 91-year-old Demjanjuk, a free man while his appeal wends itself through the German court system, has been staying at the St. Lukas nursing home on the edge of this village just south of Munich since May 12. Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the deaths of 28,060 people (the vast majority of them Jews) while he was a guard in the Nazi death camp Sobibor, in Poland. As a stateless person, he cannot leave Germany.
No one in town has seen Demjanjuk, as he has reportedly not left his room at the nursing home. Nonetheless, his being out of sight does not mean he has been out of mind among the local residents. While some are indifferent to the convict’s presence, others oppose it on either moral or practical grounds.
Hans Hofer, mayor of Bad Feilnbach, is none too thrilled about the impact of Demjanuk’s arrival on his town’s image. He told Der Spiegel that in Bad Feilnbach (whose economy relies heavily on tourism), “We are fighting for every guest.” The recessionary situation is enough of a challenge without the town’s having already received “considerably more than 30 e-mails in which guests have expressed concerns,” according to Hofer. “We absolutely do not need negative reports.”
The town’s Catholic priest, the Rev. Ernst Kogler, told Der Spiegel that, among the 3,000 members of his parish, there are mixed opinions about Demjanjuk’s presence. Some say they don’t think it is a problem; others think he should be in jail, and still others say they don’t care one way or another. Interestingly, some people in the last category apparently went on to speak for 20 minutes to the Der Spiegel reporter after saying things like, “I don’t express my personal opinion.”
The diplomatic Kogler said he understood both those who feel the town should unite in opposition against Demjanjuk and those who think he should just be left alone. All can agree, however, that the convicted Nazi war criminal is not your average nonagenarian at the St. Lukas nursing home and that he would be living in far less comfortable quarters were it not for his advanced age.