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Johann Breyer, 89, of Philadelphia was arrested on Tuesday in connection with his involvement in the Auschwitz concentration camp back in 1944. Breyer was charged for possible complicity to murder of over 200,000 Jews during World War II. He is currently in custody and could face extradition despite being a U.S. citizen.
Johann Breyer, who also goes by the name “Hans,” appeared in court Wednesday morning. He is a retired toolmaker and was residing in northeastern Philadelphia. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to return to court in August for a pending extradition hearing.
Breyer’s attorney, Dennis Boyle, has actually worked with Breyer since when he was first questioned by U.S. authorities nearly twenty years ago. Boyle also is fighting to have Breyer not be imprisoned during the trial due to his weakened and frail physical state. Boyle pointed out that Breyer was showing early signs of dementia and is hoping he qualifies to be freed on bail due to his poor physical state.
Approximately 50 years ago, Breyer was extradited from Germany due to his involvement in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He admitted to officials to being a former perimeter guard for Auschwitz I. Within Auschwitz I inhumane experiments were conducted on Jewish prisoners which resulted in their deaths. These experiments were led by Josef Mengele, who was a physician and German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer. Breyer has stated that his only involvement was as a perimeter guard and that he did not conduct any form of extermination on any human during that time. His job was to prevent anyone from escaping the route from the trains into Auschwitz and to patrol the concentration camp.
In Germany, Breyer was accused in connection to the extermination of approximately 158 trainloads of Jewish prisoners coming from Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia. This is documented to have occurred between May 1944 to October 1944. Thousands of women, men and children from the trains were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. Breyer has denied any direct involvement in the execution process. Prosecutors argue that being a perimeter guard and his overall presence in the camps is being involved in the process and that his role served to aid in the the deaths.
The U.S. Justice Department tried to deport Breyer in the 1990s numerous times, but could not strip him of his citizenship. In 2003, it was finally ruled that Johann Breyer could remain in the United States. This was ruled in his favor because he was only 17 when he enlisted for the Nazi’s. Once recruited, Breyer became a perimeter guard for the SS “Death’s Head” Nazi Battalion. Breyer also is a legal U.S. citizen by birth. His mother was born in America and eventually she moved to Czechoslovakia as a child. This made his argument stronger though he himself was born in Czechoslovakia.
The recent arrest of Johann Breyer in Philidelphia has brought further attention to an ongoing debate on a historical, yet still very sensitive topic. It is often debated whether or not to prosecute any person involved in World War II’s Nazi concentration camps if the person being prosecuted is over the age of 80. Breyer will remain in prison, unless charged otherwise, until the next extradition court date takes place in August. If Johann Breyer is extradited from the United States because of his connection with the Auschwitz concentration camps from World II, he will be the oldest person to be extradited in connection with Nazi crimes.
By Tricia Manalansan