An 89-year-old Philadelphia man who was a Nazi guard at the Auschwitz concentration camps has been detained for possible extradition to Germany on charges of aiding the extermination of more than 200,000 Jews during World War II.
Johann "Hans" Breyer, a retired toolmaker and a U.S. citizen, was arrested Tuesday at his home and ordered held without bail Wednesday pending an extradition hearing in August. His attorney argued unsuccessfully that Breyer is too frail to be held, telling the federal magistrate he "is not a threat to anyone."
A court in the Bavarian town of Weiden, where Breyer lived before coming to the United States more than 50 years ago, charged him with complicity in the murders of 158 trainloads of prisoners hauled from Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia to the death camp in occupied Poland between May 1944 and October 1944.
He has admitted being a perimeter guard at Auschwitz I, a camp where slave laborers were held and where Josef Mengele conducted inhumane experiments on prisoners. But he denied working at Auschwitz II, more commonly known as Birkenau, where an estimated 1.5 million Jews were systematically murdered.
"I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody," Breyer told the Associated Press in a 2012 interview from his home. "I didn't do anything wrong."
He did acknowledge being aware of the killing going on inside, but he was not a witness. "We could only see the outside, the gates," Breyer said.
Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. Justice Department tried to deport Breyer and strip him of his citizenship, but in 2003 a court ruled he could remain here because he had enlisted in the SS at age 17 and was not legally culpable for any of the atrocities.
Breyer was born in 1925 in what was Czechoslovakia. His mother was a Philadelphia native who later moved to Europe, where she married a German.