Lawyer: Nazi war suspect dies as extradition OKd

FILE - This undated file image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I, Poland, which was liberated by the Russians in January 1945. Writing over the gate reads: "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes free - or work liberates). The lawyer for Nazi war crimes suspect Johann "Hans" Breyer says the 89-year-old Philadelphia man died Tuesday, July 22, 2014 while awaiting extradition to Germany. German prosecutors had hoped to try Breyer on charges of aiding in the murder of more than 200,000 Jews at the Auschwitz death camp. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - This undated file image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I, Poland, which was liberated by the Russians in January 1945. Writing over the gate reads: "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes free - or work liberates). The lawyer for Nazi war crimes suspect Johann "Hans" Breyer says the 89-year-old Philadelphia man died Tuesday, July 22, 2014 while awaiting extradition to Germany. German prosecutors had hoped to try Breyer on charges of aiding in the murder of more than 200,000 Jews at the Auschwitz death camp. (AP Photo/File)
Posted: July 25, 2014

A Northeast Philadelphia man accused of Nazi war crimes died Tuesday night, just hours before a federal judge signed off on his extradition to Germany to stand trial for his role as an armed guard at the infamous Auschwitz death camp.

The order would have needed the approval of the U.S. secretary of state before extradition could have taken place.

Johann Breyer, 89, died Tuesday night at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, his attorney Dennis Boyle told the Associated Press on Wednesday. He said that Breyer's health had deteriorated but that he did not know the cause of death.

Boyle had said that in recent years, Breyer suffered a series of ministrokes, and was being treated for a heart condition and dementia.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia said it had no comment on Breyer's death or the extradition.

In a 31-page opinion that described in detail the history of concentration camps and the atrocities committed at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice wrote, "Like other accused war criminals, Breyer must submit to the judgment of law for his alleged role in Nazi atrocities against humanity. No statute of limitations offers a safe haven for murder."

The judge wrote that allegations made by German prosecutors established the probable cause necessary for granting U.S. prosecutors' request that Breyer be sent to Germany.

"Although Breyer claims he was unaware of the massive slaughter at Auschwitz, and then that he did not participate in it, the German allegations belie his claims," Rice wrote. "As outlined by Germany, a death camp guard such as Breyer could not have served at Auschwitz during the peak of the Nazi reign of terror in 1944 without knowing that hundreds of thousands of human beings were being brutally slaughtered in gas chambers and then burned on site."

Rice continued, "A daily parade of freight trains delivered hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, most of whom simply vanished overnight. Yet, the screams, the smells, and the pall of death permeated the air. The allegations establish that Breyer can no longer deceive himself and others of his complicity in such horror."

Breyer, who was arrested last month at his home near Pennypack Park, had said that in his teens, he was forced to work as a guard at Auschwitz.

In 2012, he also told the AP that while he was an Auschwitz guard, he was posted in a portion of the camp that did not exterminate Jews and others.

"I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody - and I don't even have a traffic ticket here," he said. "I didn't do anything wrong."

U.S. prosecutors described Breyer as a head guard at the death camp.

His lawyers have portrayed the Breyer of 1942 as a scared 17-year-old taken from his family farm in Slovakia and pressed into Nazi service.

U.S. court filings unsealed last month painted a different picture.

Breyer voluntarily enlisted, responding to a call to ethnic German youths, the documents state. He was called up a year later and deployed with the Waffen-SS Death's Head Guard Battalions to Auschwitz-Birkenau through 1944.

That year, more than 437,000 Hungarian Jews arrived at Auschwitz, nearly half of them being exterminated upon arrival.


jgrant@phillynews.com215-854-5506

Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article, which

also contains information from the Associated Press.

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