An 89-year-old Philadelphia man has been arrested on charges of aiding and abetting the killing of 216,000 Jews while he was a guard at the Auschwitz death camp, The Associated Press (AP) reported on Wednesday.
The man, Johann “Hans” Breyer, was ordered held without bail on a German arrest warrant, the report said.
Breyer, a retired toolmaker, was arrested by U.S. authorities Tuesday night. He spent the night in custody and appeared frail during a detention hearing in federal court, wearing an olive green prison jumpsuit and carrying a cane, according to AP.
Legal filings unsealed Wednesday in the U.S. indicate the district court in Weiden, Germany, issued a warrant for Breyer's arrest the day before, 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 at Auschwitz-Birkenau between May 1944 and October 1944, the documents said.
Attorney Dennis Boyle argued his client is too infirm to be detained pending a hearing on his possible extradition to Germany. Breyer has mild dementia and heart issues and has previously suffered strokes, said the lawyer.
The judge, however, ruled the detention center was equipped to care for Breyer, who appeared to comprehend questions about the nature of the hearing.
Breyer has been under investigation by prosecutors in the Bavarian town of Weiden, near where he last lived in Germany, the report said.
He has admitted he was a guard at Auschwitz during World War II, but has told AP he was stationed outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp part of the complex and had nothing to do with the wholesale slaughter of about 1.5 million Jews and others behind the gates.
The investigation in Germany came after years of failed U.S. efforts to have Breyer stripped of his American citizenship and deported.
A court ruling in 2003 allowed him to stay in the United States, mainly on the grounds that he had joined the SS as a minor and could therefore not be held legally responsible for participation in it. His American citizenship stems from the fact his mother was born in the U.S.; she later moved to Europe, where Breyer was born.
Germany recently began a crackdown on former Nazi war criminals and in March made several arrests of suspected criminals.
Some 220 others are still being investigated for possible charges but have not been located.
The series of arrests comes following the 2011 Munich trial of John Demjanjuk, a Nazi war criminal charged of assisting in the murder of 28,060 people at the Sobibor death camp and sentenced to five years. The former Nazi died in 2012.
Last month, Germany said that some 20 former guards at the Majdanek death camp could face charges, following a widespread probe of the Nazi SS men and women who served there during World War II.