Germany is seeking extradition of an 89-year-old Pennsylvania man in connection with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald Nazi concentration camps, a U.S. judge said on Wednesday.
Johann Breyer was arrested by U.S. authorities on Tuesday at his home in Philadelphia on allegations that he served as a Nazi SS guard at the concentration camps. The retired tool-and-die maker, born in then-Czechoslovakia, is accused of joining the Waffen SS at age 17.
Breyer immigrated to the United States in 1952. He was the subject of deportation proceedings in the 1990s when his attorneys argued he was a natural U.S. citizen because his mother was born in Philadelphia. They also argued that Breyer had been coerced into joining the SS.
Germany has issued a warrant for his arrest, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice said at Breyer’s court appearance in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Newly discovered evidence has strengthened the case against Breyer, The New York Times reported. War-era records show he was at Auschwitz earlier than he has acknowledged and that he also served as a guard in a notorious subcamp, known as Birkenau, used exclusively to kill prisoners. In the past, Breyer has admitted he served as a guard at Auchswitz but asserted he was forced to do so and he played no part in the murders of Jews in gas chambers.
“I didn’t kill anybody, I didn’t rape anybody — and I don’t even have a traffic ticket here. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Breyer told the Associated Press in 2012.
Breyer now faces allegations that he was involved in the gassing deaths of 216,000 Jews transported to the concentration camp in 1944, according to The New York Times. He faces 158 counts of aiding and abetting in their murder — one for every trainload that arrived during a six-month period.
Within the last 35 years, the U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 130 Nazi suspects, but the 89-year-old Breyer is the oldest and may become the last Nazi defendant in America, The Times reported.
Breyer has lived for years in a northeast Philadelphia townhouse with his wife. “He was a nice guy who fed my dog treats and talked to my parents when they came down,” longtime neighbour Ken Perkins told The Times.
In court on Wednesday, Breyer’s lawyers argued that he was not healthy enough to be held in federal detention while his case is being decided.
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