Philadelphia resident Johann “Hans” Breyer, 89, has been ordered to be detained by federal authorities while a judge makes a final decision on whether or not the man, who is alleged to have been a guard in a Nazi death camp, will be returned to Germany to face charges. Germany has been trying to have Breyer, who has lived in the U.S. since 1952, and working as a tool maker until his retirement, returned to the country in order to prosecute him for his alleged stint as a guard at Auschwitz II-Birkenau during World War II. Although Brau was first charged in Germany in 1992, he was able to continue living in the U.S. under claims of citizenship due to the fact that his mother was born in the country.
Breyer enlisted in the army in 1943 at age 17, and was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he served several months as an armed guard. He was then transferred to serve as a guard at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, according to German charging documents. Although time has made records of his transfer unretrievable, prosecutors were able to draw evidence from other war-time documents as well as from past statements by Breyer. In addition, the guard company to which Breyer belonged was routinely stationed at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The sources found by German justice authorities have led them to believe that Breyer was a part of the group transferred to the Nazi death camp Birkenau with the “highest degree of probability.”
A warrant for Breyer’s arrest was issued in June of last year by German authorities. The criminal complaint, made public on Wednesday, alleges that Breyer was a Waffen-SS guard at the Birkenau extermination camp at Auschwitz II from 1943 to Jan. 1945 and was complicit in the deaths of approximately 216,000 European Jews, who arrived at Auschwitz from Slovakia and Hungary in 158 trainloads during the war. As the trains full of people arrived at Auschwitz II-Birkenau from May to October of 1944, they were escorted to the gas chambers, executed and cremated.
According to the criminal complaint against him, Breyer served the Nazi army as part of the Death’s Head Guard Battalion, who lived in full view of both the gas chambers and the crematoria at the Nazi death camp. The complaint also indicates that it was the Death’s Head Guards who surrounded the incoming deportees when they were released from the train cars in which they were transported, only to have two-thirds of them led immediately to the gas chambers by the guards. In addition, prosecutors claim that during his time at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Breyer was at least twice allowed to take a leave and was also promoted – neither of which would have occurred had he “failed or refused to perform” all of the duties to which he was assigned as a Nazi Death’s Head guard.
Officials in Weiden, Germany, where Breyer once lived, have requested his extradition from the U.S. so that he can face the charges in Germany. U.S. Marshals were sent to his home on Tuesday, where they arrested Breyer. An extradition hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21, and U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Rice has ordered that he be held in custody until then. Breyer has admitted to being a guard at Auschwitz, but denies that he took part in the murder of prisoners at Birkenau because he claims to have spent his time there working on the perimeter of the camp. Dennis Boyle, attorney for Breyer, states that numerous hearings have already taken place which have proved Germany’s allegations to be false, and that the new hearing is not “something that has any merit or should move forward.” Breyer’s attorneys also plan to fight the extradition order on the grounds that Breyer, who used a cane during his court appearance on Wednesday, is too frail. Prosecutors refute that, saying that the detention center to which Breyer would be sent will be able to accommodate his needs.
In 2003, the U.S. Justice Department attempted to have Breyer’s citizenship revoked and ordered his deportation to Germany until a federal appeals court upheld the ruling by a lower court judge that found that Breyer had not voluntarily served the Nazis at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, part of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex located in Poland, which was occupied by Germany during the Second World War. Breyer is the oldest person in the U.S. to ever have been accused of being a Nazi war criminal. Approximately 1,060,000 people, the vast majority of whom were Jews, were murdered at the Nazi death camp. During the height of the Nazi-led deportations, the death camp at Auschwitz alone was responsible for killing up to 6,000 Jews per day.
By Jennifer Pfalz