Johann Breyer, 89-year-old Nazi living in America and accused of helping kill 200,000 Jews in Auschwitz, facing extradition to Germany

Breyer insists he 'didn't do anything wrong'

A decade after a court ruling allowed him to live out his quiet, middle-class life in the US, an 89-year-old Philadelphia man faces possible extradition to Germany on charges he aided in the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children at a Nazi death camp.

Johann “Hans” Breyer, a retired tool-and-die maker, is being held without bail on allegations stemming from his suspected service as an SS guard at Auschwitz during World War II. He was arrested on Tuesday outside his home in north-east Philadelphia.

Earlier that day, the district court in Weiden, Germany, issued a warrant charging him with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder. Each count represents a trainload of Nazi prisoners from Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia who were killed between May 1944 and October 1944, according to US prosecutors.

Attorney Dennis Boyle argued in a federal court in Philadelphia yesterday that Breyer is too infirm to be detained pending his extradition hearing on 21 August.

Breyer, wearing a prison-issued jumpsuit, appeared frail and carried a cane as he was helped to his seat. He has mild dementia and heart issues and has previously suffered strokes, Boyle said.

“Mr Breyer is not a threat to anyone,” said Boyle. “He's not a flight risk.”

At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944, around 90 per cent of them were Jewish At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944, around 90 per cent of them were Jewish But Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice ruled the detention centre was medically equipped to care for Breyer. The elderly defendant appeared to comprehend questions about the nature of the hearing, though one of his grandsons testified Breyer's dementia has worsened recently.

Breyer has been under investigation for years by prosecutors in the Bavarian town of Weiden, near where he last lived in Germany. He has resided in the US since 1952.

Breyer has admitted he was a guard at Auschwitz in occupied Poland, but he told The Associated Press that he was stationed outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp part of the complex. He denied having anything to do with the wholesale slaughter of about 1.5 million Jews and others behind the gates.

“I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody - and I don't even have a traffic ticket here,” he told the AP in a 2012 interview. “I didn't do anything wrong.”

 

Thomas Walther, a former federal prosecutor with the special office that investigates Nazi war crimes in Germany, now represents family members of some of Breyer's alleged victims as co-plaintiffs in the case. He called for a speedy extradition.

“The German court has to find late justice for the crimes of Breyer and for the victims and their sons and daughters as co-plaintiffs,” Walther wrote in an email to the AP. “It is late, but not too late.”

The US government tried to revoke Breyer's citizenship in 1992 after discovering his wartime background. His American citizenship stems from the fact his mother was born in the US; she later moved to Europe, where Breyer was born.

The years-long legal saga appeared to end with a 2003 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Breyer had joined the SS as a minor and could therefore not be held legally responsible for participation in it.

As he was being arrested Tuesday, Breyer asked law enforcement officers to retrieve papers in his home that document his right to stay in the U.S., according to deputy marshal Daniel Donnelly.

Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said he hoped there would be no obstacles to Breyer's extradition and trial overseas.

“Germany deserves credit for doing this - for extending and expanding their efforts and, in a sense, making a final attempt to maximize the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators,” he said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss