Northeast Man Called Nazi Guard Denies He Knew Of Camp Killings

Posted: April 22, 1992

A 66-year-old pensioner who for years has lived on a quiet block of Northeast Philadelphia was a Nazi guard at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps, federal authorities say.

Johann Breyer was named in a civil complaint filed here in U.S. District Court.

The suit seeks to revoke his citizenship on the basis of his wartime service in the SS Death's Head Battalion, the unit responsible for guarding concentration camps.

Breyer last night said he had been drafted into the SS and had guarded the periphery of concentration camps but had "not the slightest idea" anyone was being tortured or killed.

The complaint, filed by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, charged that Breyer, a native of Nova Lesna, Czechoslovakia, used six aliases and concealed his service as an armed guard in the death camps when he applied to immigrate in 1951.

The suit said Breyer served at the Buchenwald concentration camp in central Germany - from February 1943 until September or October 1944 - where Jews, Gypsies, Polish citizens, communists and prisoners of war were held, and where thousands died from forced labor, malnutrition, disease, torture, and systematic hangings, shootings and beatings.

From October 1944 until about January 1945, the complaint said, Breyer served as an armed SS guard at Auschwitz in Poland, a period in which at least 60,000 people, mostly Jews, were marched to gas chambers. In all, two million died there.

In an interview last night at his rowhouse near Pennypack Park, Breyer, a divorced father of three grown children, said he knew nothing about what was going on inside the infamous camps. He said he was a mere 17 when he was drafted into the Waffen SS, and was assigned to guard the periphery of the camps.

"Not the slightest idea, never, never, ever," Breyer said, his voice still thick with a Central European accent. "All I know is from the television. What was happening at the camps, it never came up at that time, guarding the whole area. For me it was 12-hours-long duty."

He said he considered himself a victim of the war because he was taken prisoner by the Russians in May 1945 and held for five months, during which time his weight dropped to 98 pounds.

Breyer, who said he retired two weeks ago after 32 years as a tool and die maker for Laneko Engineering Co. in Fort Washington Industrial Park, said the government was moving to deport him in an effort to avoid paying his Social Security.

"This is a very bad practice, what they're doing," Breyer said. "They wait until you're 65 and . . . they try to stir up this problem." He said he was first contacted by the Justice Department in December and questioned for about six hours. He told his children about the investigation only in the last month, he said, when he realized it would draw publicity.

Breyer insisted he had disclosed his SS service to American authorities when he applied to immigrate. He said he chose the United States because his mother was American-born.

U.S. officials asked only if he had ever fought American troops, he said.

According to a law enforcement source, the investigation was part of the Justice Department's ongoing review of Nazi personnel records and U.S. postwar immigration rosters.

The immigration papers show that Breyer "concealed his service as an armed SS guard" at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the complaint stated.

The Nuremberg tribunal declared the Waffen SS and the Death's Head Battalion criminal organizations for their role in the Holocaust.

"These people were entrusted with the special dirty work that Hitler never trusted his army to do," said Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher with the Simon Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles. "They were entrusted with the Final Solution. To get into the SS, you had to prove pure German background, you had to fit into the mold."

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