An 89-year old American citizen and former guard at the Auschwitz death camp has died in a Philadelphia hospital while awaiting extradition to Germany.
Johann Breyer died on Tuesday night, the same day a US judge agreed to a request for him to be sent to Germany to stand trial for events which occurred 70 years ago.
Breyer was accused of being a Nazi “Death’s Head Guard” at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The camp was responsible for murdering more than 200,000 Jews during World War II, according to CBS News.
Following his arrest by US Marshalls in June, Breyer admitted he was a death camp guard, but said he was stationed outside and had nothing to do with the deaths.
Breyer, born in Czechoslovakia, 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 told the AP. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Breyer emigrated to the US in 1952 and during the 1990s the US attempted to strip him of his citizenship and deport him. But that failed when a judge ruled he was a natural-born citizen through his American mother and was coerced into joining the SS as a minor.
Last week in a court filing, Breyer’s lawyer Dennis Boyle wrote:
“Johann Breyer was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. The persecution of one 90-year-old man who merely wore the uniform of an enlisted member of the SS and went where he was ordered to go cannot atone for the German government’s decades-long failure to prosecute those truly responsible.”
Only days later Boyle’s words found an echo in Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, who said the anti-Semitic demonstrations on the streets of Berlin had returned the country to the Nazi era: “They pursue the Jews in the streets of Berlin… as if we were in 1938.”
“I think Germans should be worried by that, because you also hear anti-Semitic slogans like ‘Jews into the gas’ – in Germany?”