An 89-year-old Philadelphia man was arrested by U.S. officials Tuesday and a day later charged by German authorities with 158 counts of assisting in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jewish prisoners and others while he was a Nazi guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Johann “Hans” Breyer, a retired toolmaker from Czechoslovakia, is the oldest person ever arrested in connection with crimes committed during the Holocaust, according to the New York Times.
Officials say Breyer joined the paramilitary Waffen-SS force at age 17, and later worked at Birkenau, a section of the concentration camp at Auschwitz that housed gas chambers. Breyer admitted to the Associated Press that he worked as a guard at Auschwitz-Berkenau, but he said his duties kept him outside the facility and he had nothing to do with the killings committed inside the gates.
Breyer’s attorney, Dennis Boyle, tried to get Breyer released on bail Wednesday, arguing that he is too frail to be detained. But prosecutors said the facility where Breyer is being taken is equipped to take care of him. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice said Breyer appeared to understand the proceedings and would not be granted bail due to the “the serious nature of the crime.”
Breyer’s arrest renews a case that officials in multiple countries have pursued for years. The U.S. Justice Department first accused Breyer of Nazi ties in 1992 and fought to deport him until 2003, according to the AP. The DOJ questioned whether Breyer lied about his Nazi involvement when applying for citizenship or whether he could have citizenship through his mother, who was born in the U.S. He was allowed to stay in the U.S. largely because he joined the SS as a minor.
Germany now wants Breyer extradited so he can stand trial for the charges against him in that country.