U.S. authorities have arrested Johann Breyer, an 89-year-old suspected former guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald currently living in Philadelphia, the New York Times reports. He has been charged with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder. The arrest is part of renewed German efforts to identify and arrest former Nazi guards, most of whom are now in their eighties and nineties—and an acknowledgment that time is very quickly running out to hold those responsible for Nazi crimes accountable in court. Germany is attempting to have Breyer extradited to Germany, where he would face trial.
Johann Breyer, a retired tool maker born in Czechoslovakia, is the oldest person ever accused of ties to the Third Reich by United States authorities who for decades have hunted for Nazis who escaped to America after the war. Mr. Breyer is accused of joining the Waffen SS at age 17 and working as a guard at the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Officials say newly discovered evidence has strengthened their case against Mr. Breyer. War-era records indicate that he was at Auschwitz earlier in the war than he acknowledged and that he served as a guard in a particularly notorious subcamp, known as Birkenau or “Auschwitz 2,” which was used exclusively to kill prisoners.
The U.S. Justice Department’s attempted to deport Breyer in 1992, but the effort was thwarted by Breyer’s argument that he was a citizen since his mother was born in the U.S. Still, while this attempt to get Breyer out of the country has a better probability of success, the likelihood that the 89-year-old will stand trial in Germany remains low. In March, a German court declared 94-year-old Hans Lipschis, a suspected former Auschwitz guard, unfit for trial, citing his worsening dementia. Lipschis was charged with 10,510 counts of accessory to murder.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement applauding the arrest. “This commitment to accountability for atrocities committed during the Holocaust gives hope and comfort to victims of other acts of genocide, whether in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia or elsewhere,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said. “We are especially grateful for the tireless efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice, which has long sought an order of deportation against Breyer, who served in the Nazi SS as a guard at two notorious concentration camps during World War II.”