Ex-nazi: Mother Was Born In U.s. Johann Breyer, A Guard At The Death Camps, Is Fighting Deportation. He Asserts That His Mother Was Born In Manayunk.

Posted: September 08, 1993

He acknowledges that he was a Nazi SS guard at the death camps of Buchenwald and Auschwitz. He admits that he lied by denying his past on his immigration papers, which allowed him to enter this country illegally in 1952.

Now Johann Breyer, contending that he is a U.S. citizen because his mother was born in the city's Manayunk section almost a century ago, is fighting a U.S. Justice Department effort to deport him.

In U.S. District Court yesterday, Breyer testified that in his native Slovakia, his mother was always known as "The American" because she had been born in Philadelphia and baptized here, before returning to Slovakia early in the century.

"It was very known to the whole family that my mother was born in Pennsylvania, in the United States," said Breyer, 68, his voice thick with a Central European accent.

The testimony came as part of a hearing that focused on the question of whether Breyer's mother was indeed born in Manayunk, as he says. U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. permitted Breyer to raise that defense last July when he struck down a federal statute as unconstitutional because it granted citizenship only to those whose fathers - and not their mothers - were born in the United States.

Despite that ruling, Yohn deferred a decision on whether Breyer should be entitled to stave off deportation even if he is able to prove that his mother was born here. The judge found that the retired tool-and-die maker unlawfully entered this country and procured his citizenship illegally when he concealed his role as a concentration camp guard in the SS Death's Head Battalion from 1943 to 1945.

Breyer's attorney, Joseph V. Restifo, argues that his naturalized American citizenship is "superfluous" and the government's efforts to revoke it are ''meaningless" because Breyer's mother's birth here means that he has been entitled to full-fledged U.S. citizenship all the while.

The Justice Department argues that even if Breyer's mother was born in the United States, she renounced her citizenship by marrying a foreigner in 1913, expatriating herself and then voting in German elections after World War II.

No birth certificate for Breyer's mother has been found. To support Breyer's claim, Restifo presented the Rev. David J. Wartluft, custodian of records for the Lutheran Church, who pointed to a register kept by the Bethany Lutheran Church in Roxborough that recorded the 1897 birth and 1898 baptism of Katherina Susanna Breyer, who Breyer says is his mother.

Government prosecutors tried to attack this evidence by noting that the information does not contain the place of birth for the woman. They also noted that it does not contain any evidence that this person is the same woman who later moved back to Slovakia, married and became Breyer's mother.

Breyer also got support from his son Henry, who said that he recalled visiting his grandmother in 1959, when he was 5, and that she told him that she had once lived in Philadelphia. Another son, Herbert, said it was well- known in his family that his father's mother had been born in Philadelphia. Breyer also produced two Philadelphia residents who had been neighbors of his in Slovakia. They recalled Breyer's mother as being known as "The American"

because she had been born here.

The government produced documents, too, including registration cards from Deutsch partie, a political organization sympathetic to the Nazis established by ethnic Germans in Czechoslavakia, which contained the names of Breyer, his parents and a sister, and gave Breyer's mother's place of birth as Neuwalddorf, now known as Nova Lesna in Slovakia.

Testimony about Deutsch partie, and its ties to the Nazis, was presented by historian Charles Wright Sydnor Jr., an expert on the Death's Head Battalion who was called as a government witness. As Sydnor discussed the rising tide of membership in the pro-Nazi Slovak organization, Breyer wiped his brow, then held his hands clasped in front of his face.

The case arose in April 1992, when the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations named Breyer in a civil lawsuit that sought his deportation for lying about his Nazi past when he gained entry into this country 40 years earlier.

In the intervening years, Breyer worked in a series of machinist jobs, raised three children and was married for 30 years, before his divorce in 1983.

When the lawsuit was filed, Breyer said he knew nothing of the mass torture and killings that characterized the Nazi death 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, never," Breyer said at the time. ''All I know is from the television."

Government prosecutors and historians scoffed at such claims, asserting that it would have been impossible for an SS guard to escape the fact that thousands of Jews, Gypsies and political prisoners were being put to death in and burned in mass crematories. Historians also cited Nazi archives that showed service in the SS was voluntary until 1944.

The hearing comes after an Aug. 25 ruling in U.S. District Court in Easton, Pa., in which Nikolaus Schiffer, 74, an American-born citizen, was stripped of his citizenship for serving as a guard in three Nazi deaths camps. Schiffer, a retired baker born in Philadelphia and now living in New Ringgold, Schuylkill County, had moved to Romania as a child and grown up there.

U.S. District Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen ruled that Schiffer had lost his U.S. citizenship when he joined the Romania Army and the SS and pledged allegiance to Hitler. He subsequently regained it illegally, the judge ruled, by concealing his past and not telling U.S. officials that he had been arrested as a war-crimes suspect.

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