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Nazi war suspect, 89, dies as extradition OK'd

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - An 89-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect died in custody hours before a U.S. ruling Wednesday that he should be extradited to Germany to face trial.

Johann Breyer died Tuesday night at a Philadelphia hospital, where he had been transferred Saturday after a month in jail, his lawyer and the U.S. Marshals Service said. His death was disclosed Wednesday just as U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice approved the extradition request, which would still have needed final U.S. government review.

Rice found probable cause that Breyer was the person being sought by German authorities over his suspected service as an SS guard at Auschwitz during World War II.

"No statute of limitations offers a safe haven for murder," he wrote in his ruling.

U.S. marshals had arrested Breyer in June outside his longtime home in Philadelphia. He was facing charges of aiding in the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children at a Nazi death camp.

"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 wrote.

"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," the judge said.

Breyer claimed he was unaware of the massive slaughter at Auschwitz and then that he did not participate in it, but "the German allegations belie his claims," the judge wrote.

Breyer died at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, according to his lawyer, Dennis Boyle, and the Marshals Service. The lawyer said Breyer's health had deteriorated in jail but he didn't know the cause of death.

German authorities in the Bavarian town of Weiden issued a 2013 warrant charging Breyer with accessory to murder under the theory that the death camp's sole function was to kill people.

The same legal strategy had been used to charge and convict former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk on charges he served as a death camp guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland. Demjanjuk died in a Bavarian nursing home in 2012 while appealing his 2011 conviction.

The 2013 warrant accused Breyer of 158 counts of accessory to murder - one count for each trainload of victims brought to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland from May to October 1944, when he was allegedly a guard there.

"It is particularly unfortunate that Breyer could not be brought to justice in view of the significant efforts that were invested in trying to hold him accountable for his service at the Auschwitz death camp," said Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. "This setback should in no way discourage or hamper the efforts to bring other perpetrators to justice at this time."

Breyer told The Associated Press in a 2012 interview that while he was a guard at Auschwitz, he was assigned to a part of the camp that was not involved in the slaughter of 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."

Breyer moved to Philadelphia after World War II and for decades lived a quiet, middle-class life with his wife, children and grandchildren. He had American citizenship because his mother was born in the U.S.; she later moved to Europe, where Breyer was born.

In 1992, the U.S. government tried to revoke Breyer's citizenship after discovering his wartime background. The effort became a yearslong legal saga and appeared to end with a 2003 decision that found Breyer had joined the SS as a minor and could therefore not be held legally responsible for participating in it.

Then he was arrested last month outside his home in northeast Philadelphia based on the German warrant. Officials say the arrest was delayed for a year because of the complexity of the extradition request.

His lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that Breyer should remain at home pending the extradition hearing because of his frail health. They said he has mild dementia, heart conditions and has suffered strokes in recent years.

Rice initially ruled that the federal prison system was capable of caring for Breyer, although he reversed himself Monday after what he called the "emergency hospitalization" and granted bail.

Breyer's wife and survivors could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. Messages left at his home were not immediately returned.

"This hurts. This hurts the families of the victims. This hurts anyone who is interested in justice," Zuroff said.

Join the discussion

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horvathmich July 23 2014 at 10:35 PM

give it up, the war ended 60 years ago and this guy was nothing more than a guard, if he as a young kid did not do his job he would have been killed him self, what exactly does any one want from this old man? oh I forgot he's dead move on every one, why don't we deal with todays people killers in stead

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23 replies
andrewofkcmo July 23 2014 at 10:27 PM

Perhaps they could send his corpse to Germany for trial and prop him up for the proceedings. Then when found guilty send him to a prison and prop him up again in a cell to pacify the jews.

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15 replies
redheadfemfite July 23 2014 at 10:05 PM

This man was 20 when the war ENDED. He was 18 or 19 at the time he was supposedly a guard. I've noticed that participation in riots is always overlooked and forgiven as getting "carried away" - note the man who threw the brick down onto the trucker's head a few years ago. This boy at 18-19 was not in a position of authority. His presence as a guard could have been coerced or forced out of fear of the system he was raised in. He was 7 when Hitler came to power.

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2 replies
AOL is the Worst redheadfemfite July 23 2014 at 11:14 PM

I hate redheads. Most of them are dykes.

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2 replies
HWOODTX61 AOL is the Worst July 24 2014 at 12:17 AM

We hate F*gs like you !

Assh*le !

Flag +1 rate up
lawrencefishberg AOL is the Worst July 24 2014 at 6:15 AM

I hate morons like yourself.

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THOM redheadfemfite July 24 2014 at 12:56 AM

At seven many began Nazi training in the Hitler Youth and were 'ready' for their 'work'. Many German youth/teens left Germany, so could've he. My uncle said that was the thing during the occupation. There were photos found of the large parades and the bystanders giving the Nazi salute, but during the occupation, No one would admit to being one or participation, even those accused of nothing at all.

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corvettony July 23 2014 at 9:52 PM

"This hurts the families of the victims?" and blah blah... Que Que? Trying a near centenarian is both stupid and oxymoronic. Take his Grand children to court! Would that make people feel better about themselves? It's 2014 L let it go... God forgave him decades ago... not sure how the Yiddish messiah feels about it? Oh wait... it doesn't matter anymore! Oh vey!

Flag Reply +30 rate up
11 replies
Gilbert Mayfield July 23 2014 at 10:37 PM

when your in the milatery you follow a orders no matter what or be faced with prison or shot in thoses times so you need to go after the person that gave the orders such as the head man Hitler and leave the little guard alone

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11 replies
Jerry July 23 2014 at 11:03 PM

That magistrate should be extradited and tried for stupidity. The marshals service should be tried for aiding in the mans death. He was 89!!!!!!! Hopefully he told the marshals that were holding him how tough they were guarding an 89 year old man, LET IT GO PEOPLE!!!!

Flag Reply +26 rate up
3 replies
dvdj999 July 23 2014 at 11:49 PM

How bout tracking down israelis', who commit crimes against innocent civilians in the gaza .

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12 replies
Gerald July 23 2014 at 10:55 PM

Ever since the end of WW2 the United States have been hunting down Germans for war crimes. Do you know how many Japenese they hunted down & they were the ones that invaded the US. We have been doing nothing but kissing up with them.

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10 replies
aabmhbetty July 23 2014 at 9:27 PM

And now he faces the real judge.

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4 replies
balaland July 23 2014 at 9:55 PM

Was he on Obama care .......

Flag Reply +14 rate up
5 replies
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