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Philadelphia Man Accused Of Nazi War Crimes Dies While Awaiting Extradition

The 89-year-old man died in a Philadelphia hospital on Tuesday night, while awaiting extradition to Germany to face charges that he aided in the killing of 216,000 Jews while he was a guard at Auschwitz.

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UPDATE — July 23, 6:30 p.m.: Johann Breyer, 89, passed away in a Philadelphia hospital on Tuesday night, his attorney told reporters.

Johann "Hans" Breyer was arrested at his home in June and and placed in Federal custody on a German arrest warrant for his work as a guard at Auschwitz during World War II.

AP Photo/Yad Vashem Photo Archives

At least 1.1 million Jews and 200,000 other prisoners were deported to Auschwitz between 1941 and 1944. At least 960,000 Jews and more than 100,000 other victims were killed there, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The arrest warrant charged him with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder and German prosecutors were hoping to make Breyer stand trial for these charges.

AP Photo,File

Each count represents a trainload of people taken between May 1944 and October 1944 from Hungary, Germany, and Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were killed.

Breyer had said he was a guard at Auschwitz, but that he was stationed outside of the camp.

Kacper Pempel / Reuters

"I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody — and I don't even have a traffic ticket here," he told the AP in 2012. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Germany's complaint alleged that Breyer served in the Death's Head Battalion.

Kacper Pempel / Reuters

When prisoners got off the train at Auschwitz, they were surrounded by Death's Head guards, who marched two-thirds of those who arrived directly to gas chambers.

Breyer was promoted while stationed at Auschwitz-Birkenau at least once and was granted leave twice, the complaint said.

"Such benefits were not afforded to a guard who failed or refused to perform the full range of duties of an SS Death's Head Battalion guard," prosecutors wrote in the complaint.

Breyer had been under investigation by prosecutors in Germany for years in an effort to strip him of his American citizenship and be deported for trial.

Kacper Pempel / Reuters / Reuters

In 2003, a U.S. court ruled Breyer was allowed to stay in the country on the grounds that he had joined the SS as a minor and therefore could not be held legally responsible.

The new complaint said Breyer enlisted at 17, but first served as an armed guard at the Buchenwald concentration camp for several months before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Breyer had American citizenship, because his mother was born in Philadelphia, and later moved to Czechoslovakia, where Breyer was born to an ethnic German father in 1925.

Breyer's lawyer Dennis Boyle had said his client was too frail to be in custody.

Boyle argued in June during a detention hearing in federal court that Breyer was too frail to be detained.

A police officer testified Breyer and his elderly wife understood what was happening during his arrest in June outside their home in northeast Philadelphia.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

"They both understood," Deputy Marshal Daniel Donnelly said. "It wasn't news to them."

Judge Timothy Rice had ruled the detention center was equipped to care for Breyer, until his extradition hearing — which was scheduled for Aug. 21.

In 2011, Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk became the first person convicted in Germany for serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of a specific killing, setting a precedent for future cases.


Demjanjuk always denied serving at the Sobibor death camp and he died at age 91 before his appeal could be heard, but still prosecutors pursed charges against other former Nazi guards based on his case.

In February, three former SS guards stationed at Auschwitz were arrested. In May investigators announced that as many as 20 men and women are still alive in Germany who worked at the Majdanek death camp and could face charges.

About 220 other guards are still being investigated for possible charges but have not been located.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at

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