'Last Nazi' on US Soil Arrested
Johann "Hans" Breyer, 89, of Philadelphia, was ordered held without bail Wednesday on a German arrest warrant charging him with aiding and abetting the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children while he was a guard at the Auschwitz death camp.
Breyer was arrested by U.S. authorities Tuesday night and spent the night in custody.
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 New York Times wrote on Wednesday that the case against Breyer of Philly could very well be the last legal battle involving an accused Nazi to ever be held on US soil.
Prosecutors in both the US and Germany believe that Breyer, who immigrated to the US in 1952, was a Nazi SS guard at both Auschwitz and Buchenwald and participated in the murders of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany during WW2.
Breyer was reportedly promoted at least once during his tenure at the camp and, according to the complaint, "Such benefits were not afforded to a guard who failed or refused to perform the full range of duties of an SS Death's Head Battalion guard.
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, Boyle said.
"Mr. Breyer is not a threat to anyone," said Boyle. "He's not a flight risk."
But Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice 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.
Breyer has admitted he was a guard at Auschwitz in occupied Poland during World War II, but has told The Associated Press 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.
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."
A court ruling in 2003 allowed Breyer 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.
Another factor in his favor was the fact that he did not have an SS tattoo, or a mark showing such a tattoo had been removed. Breyer testified in U.S. court that he served as a perimeter guard at Auschwitz I, which was largely for prisoners used as slave laborers, though it also had a makeshift gas chamber used early in the war. He denied ever serving in Auschwitz II, better known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of the killing took place. He also said he deserted in August, 1944 and never returned to the camp, though eventually rejoined his unit fighting outside Berlin in the final weeks of the war.