World

Will U.S. Extradite 89-Year-Old Former Nazi Guard?

Johann Breyer, 89, was arrested in Philadelphia Tuesday. Prosecutors say he might have been involved in as many as 216,000 murders at Auschwitz.

Will U.S. Extradite 89-Year-Old Former Nazi Guard?
Wikimedia Commons / Fish and karate
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An 89-year-old Philadelphia man has spent several decades trying to evade his past as a guard at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp.

Johann Breyer has been living in the U.S. since the 1950s, but he was arrested Tuesday in light of new evidence suggesting he played a larger role at Auschwitz than previously believed. (Via KYW-TV)

The question is, will the U.S. extradite him to Germany for trial?

Breyer is able to claim U.S. citizenship because his mother was born in America. But now, The New York Times reports, "The Germans ... have charged him with 158 counts of aiding and abetting in murder — one count for each of the 158 trainloads of Jews taken to the killing center at Auschwitz in a six-month span."

The 158 trainloads, as the documents suggest, equate to about 216,000 people. Breyer is accused of being complicit in each murder. (Via German Federal Archives)

In the past, CNN reports Breyer admitted to firing shots in the air occasionally and marching prisoners to construction sites outside the camp. According to the current complaint, "He told authorities he heard that people would be cremated and saw smoke but did not know how the prisoners had died."

It's responses like that, coupled with defenses — like the fact that he was a minor at just 17 when he joined the SS — that have kept him in the U.S.

The U.S. last tried to deport him in 2003, according to The Wall Street Journal"A federal appeals court affirmed a previous judge's ruling that his Nazi service was involuntary." 

 

But that reason might not be enough this time.

New evidence suggests Breyer could be downplaying his role at the camp. He was reportedly granted leave twice. Prosecutors in the case say, "Such benefits were not afforded to a guard who failed or refused to perform the full range of duties." (Via Wikimedia Commons / Fish and karate)

The Philadelphia Inquirer says, should the judge approve the extradition request, Breyer would be the oldest person sent from the U.S. to stand trial for Nazi-related crimes.

The paper quotes Breyer's attorney who said: "I think it is obvious Mr. Breyer is not a risk to anyone. He's very old." But for one woman whose parents are Holocaust survivors, that's not a good enough defense.

"Even if he's old and even if he passes away, I still think that he needs to be brought to trial." (Via KYW-TV)

Breyer's extradition hearing is reportedly scheduled for Aug. 21. Until then, he will be held in prison without bail.