A fleet of walkers is parked on the ground floor of the three-story building blanketed in silence. The nursing home sits on the edge of the small village of Bad Feilnbach just south of Munich and it has been Demjanjuk's home since May 12, 2011. On that day, a court in Munich sentenced the 91-year-old to five years in prison for his work as a guard in the Nazi death camp Sobibor and his role in the deaths of 28,060 people.
Though no one in Bad Feilnbach sees or hears from Demjanjuk, he is still there. That alone is enough to give the town something to talk about. Indeed, Demjanjuk has become something like the ghost of Bad Feilnbach. Almost no one sees him in person, and he doesn't take part in daily life, but his presence is still felt.
Demjanjuk left the court in May a free man, the judge having ordered that he should not be forced to spend additional time behind bars. Furthermore, Demjanjuk is stateless and is unable to leave the country.
'I Didn't Ask for This Problem'
Both the German prosecutors and Demjanjuk's defense attorneys have challenged the verdict and it will likely be years before the appeals run their course. In the meantime, Demjanjuk will most likely remain in Bad Feilnbach.
The community neither asked for Demjanjuk, nor wanted him. After the trial, municipal authorities in Munich went looking for a place for him to live. The convict had to go somewhere.
Hans Hofer, Bad Feilnbach's 56-year-old mayor, sits in his corner office on the second floor of the town hall. His desk is stacked high with papers; a crucifix hangs on the wall. Hofer would prefer to talk about Bad Feilnbach's sound infrastructure, low unemployment and mild climate. The town's 30,000 fruit trees have led to comparisons with the Italian mountain resort town of Merano.
Indeed, Hofer is not thrilled about discussing Demjanjuk, and he notes that it is a very awkward subject. Sobibor and Feilnbach are separated by about 930 kilometers (578 miles), he points out, and the events for which Demjanjuk was sentenced took place 68 years ago. "I would never have dreamed that this would happen to me and in this way," he says. "I didn't ask for this problem." But, given his official position, he still has to deal with it.
A Town Dependant on Tourism
When it became known that Demjanjuk was staying in Bad Feilnbach, Hofer says that two people cancelled their trip to the town. A handful of people that had visited in years past wrote him that they would no longer come to Bad Feilnbach "because of Demjanjuk's presence." And now, even weeks after Demjanjuk's arrival, the reactions are still pouring in. "We have had considerably more than 30 e-mails in which guests have expressed concerns," Hofer says.Hofer says that the town already has to make a lot of effort to attract vacationers and spa visitors. "We're fighting for each guest," he says. "We absolutely do not need negative reports." And he admits that he "can imagine" that having Demjanjuk here doesn't really add to the place's draw in the outside world.
In Bad Feilnbach, the sun is shining and the Wendelstein, an Alpine mountain some 1,883 meters (6,178 feet) tall, towers over the town. The tower of the Sacred Heart Church, with its characteristic onion-shaped dome, dominates the town center. Most of the houses have white walls on the bottom, wood paneling on top and rustic balcony rails.
Tourism is the town's most important industry and employs more than 1,000 residents. Given 330,000 overnight stays, the town can certainly survive a handfull of cancellations. But the town's image is at risk.Part 2: War Criminals Unwelcome
"The issue is not that important," he adds. "And Mr. Demjanjuk is also not that important."
Richard Rottmooser, though, is worried that Demjanjuk's presence will hurt Bad Feilnbach's reputation. The 45-year-old is chairman of the local organization representing the self-employed. "It's not good that a war criminal is being housed here," he says. As he sees it, Demjanjuk's presence gives the town a bad image.
Bad Feilnbach is a town with red roses and goldfish-filled ponds in front of town hall, a town where many stores still close during lunchtime, where the hedges are neatly trimmed, where the sidewalks and streets are well-swept, and where it takes a long time to find even a small stretch that isn't postcard perfect. But Demjanjuk is like a hairline crack running through it.
When it comes to tourist reactions, many don't catch sight of the nursing home, and many don't even realize he's there. Wilfried Köhler, for example, a 70-year-old from the city of Hamm. Köhler stands in front of the town hall and lets his gaze roam. "The area is beautiful, rejuvenating and calming," he says. "I like the mountains a lot." Köhler first came to Bad Feilnbach on vacation in 1954 and has returned dozens of times since. When he learned that Demjanjuk was staying here, it had no effect on his decision to come.
Some residents, however, are as relaxed about the matter. Mayor Hofer says that a number of local residents have directly expressed their feelings about Demjanjuk's presence. Though he won't reveal exactly what has been said, he does say that people on both sides of the issue have been passionate.
Rev. Ernst Kögler, the town's 49-year-old Catholic priest, says the townspeople are open and used to having outsiders around. Kögler gives each question a lot of thought before answering, and it's clear that he is carefully weighing what he says. In the end, he says that those who want to engage in and be part of the community are well-received. But that didn't apply to Demjanjuk. Kögler says that some of the 3,000 members of his parish were upset when they learned of Demjanjuk's presence.
Many residents insist that they are unconcerned about his presence -- so vehemently, in fact, that their denials become hard to believe. "I don't express my personal opinion," says one woman, before going on to talk about it for 20 minutes. Others will openly tell you what they think, but they won't give you their name because they're worried that having it published could hurt their businesses or reputations.
One woman said that Demjanjuk belongs in jail, but others disagree. "It doesn't bother me," one saleswoman says. "He is shut up in his room, and he doesn't do anything to anybody."
Kögler says he understands both points of view -- those who feel the town should unite against the former Nazi and those who seem unconcerned. Simply put, says Kögler, there is a difference between new arrivals: Between the average nursing home resident and a serious criminal who would go to prison if it weren't for his age.