Germany has opened a war crimes investigation into an 87-year-old Czechoslovakian-born man who currently lives in Northeast Philadelphia for allegedly serving as an SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp during World War II, according to a report from the Associated Press.
The German office in charge of handling Nazi war crimes has reportedly recommended to prosecutors that retired toolmaker Johann “Hans” Breyer be extradited to Germany and tried as an accessory to the murder of at least 344,000 Jews at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp in occupied Poland. A source told AP that officials in the Bavarian town of Weiden, who have jurisdiction over the case, are deciding now whether the evidence against Breyer is sufficient for prosecution. The decision could reportedly take several months.
Breyer admitted to AP that he was a guard at Auschwitz during World War II, but claimed that he worked outside the facility and did not witness the heinous acts committed in its interior. He also testified in a previous court hearing that he served at Auschwitz I, which was largely used for slave labor, not at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where much of the wholesale slaughter occurred.
The hearing at which Breyer presented the testimony was a part of the U.S. Justice Department’s decade-long-plus battle to have him deported, the AP also reports. The Justice Department lost that battle in 2003, when a ruling found that Breyer could stay in the United States on the grounds that he had joined the SS as a minor, recruited from his home country at the age of 17, and was not legally responsible for his participation in the army. Supporting that finding was Breyer’s claim that he deserted his post at Auschwitz in August of 1944, lending credence to his claim that the service had not been voluntary.
But per a U.S. Army intelligence file on Breyer obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request, a 1951 background check of Breyer commissioned when he first applied for a U.S. visa listed him as a member of an SS battalion in Auschwitz as late as four months after he said he deserted. That document weakens Breyer’s claims that his service was not voluntary. He could, under U.S. law, face extradition to Germany if prosecutors decide to charge him.