An 89-year-old Philadelphia man was ordered held without bail Wednesday on a German arrest warrant charging him with aiding and abetting the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children while he was a guard at the Auschwitz death camp.
The man, retired toolmaker Johann “Hans” Breyer, was arrested by U.S. authorities Tuesday night. Breyer spent the night in custody and appeared frail during a detention hearing in federal court, wearing an olive green prison jumpsuit and carrying a cane.
Legal filings unsealed Wednesday in the U.S. indicate the district court in Weiden, Germany, issued a warrant for Breyer’s arrest the day before, charging him with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder.
Each count represents a trainload of Nazi prisoners from Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia who were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau between May 1944 and October 1944, the documents said.
Attorney Dennis Boyle argued his client is too infirm to be detained pending a hearing on his possible extradition to Germany. Breyer has mild dementia and heart issues and has previously suffered strokes, Boyle said.
“Mr. Breyer is not a threat to anyone,” said Boyle. “He’s not a flight risk.”
But Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice ruled the detention center was equipped to care for Breyer, who appeared to comprehend questions about the nature of the hearing.
Thomas Walther, a former federal prosecutor with the special office that investigates Nazi war crimes in Germany, now represents family members of some of Breyer’s alleged victims as co-plaintiffs in the case. He called for a speedy extradition.
“The German court has to find late justice for the crimes of Breyer and for the victims and their sons and daughters as co-plaintiffs,” Walther wrote in an email to the AP. “It is late, but not too late.”
His extradition hearing was scheduled for August 21.
Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said he hoped there would be no obstacles to Breyer’s extradition and trial overseas.
“Germany deserves credit for doing this — for extending and expanding their efforts and, in a sense, making a final attempt to maximize the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators,” he said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.