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Suspected Nazi Dies Day Before Judge Orders Extradition

Accused Auschwitz and Buchenwald guard had been living in Philadelphia

Stephanie Butnick
July 23, 2014
The entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. judge issued an order today to have suspected former Nazi guard Johann Breyer extradited to Germany to face trial, only to learn that the 89-year-old longtime Philadelphia resident died yesterday. NPR reports that the extradition order, which would have needed government approval before going into effect, was issued after U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas R. Rice ruled there was probable caused to believe Breyer “is the same person sought for aiding and abetting murder in Germany.”

Breyer was arrested in June at his Philadelphia home and denied bail earlier this month. His arrest is part of recently renewed German efforts to identify and arrest former Nazi guards who are still alive.

Breyer, who was accused of serving as a guard at the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald, was charged with 158 counts of accessory to murder: “one for each trainload of victims brought to Auschwitz during his time there.”

It was always unlikely, however, that Breyer’s case would have actually gone to trial were he to have been extradited to Germany. His lawyer told the judge during the bail hearing that he had heart disease and dementia and had recently had a stroke; a German court ruled in May that 94-year-old Hans Lipschis, a former Auschwitz guard who was charged with 10,510 counts of accessory, was unfit to stand trial due to his worsening dementia.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.