U.S. arrests 89-year-old Auschwitz guard in Philadelphia

BY Saskia de Melker  June 18, 2014 at 6:43 PM EDT
Flickr photo by Tulio Bertorini

Johann Breyer acknowledges that he was a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Flickr photo by Tulio Bertorini

Johann Breyer, a retired tool maker in Philadelphia, is in custody after being accused of accessory to murder as a Nazi guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II.

At age 89, he is the oldest person the United States to be arrested for ties to the Third Reich. Germany issued a warrant for Breyer’s arrest and the U.S. Justice Department has tried to deport him for years.

The New York Times reports that Breyer appeared in court Wednesday looking “pale and thin, he was stooped over and walked with difficulty with a cane.” Breyer’s lawyer says he suffers from mild dementia and other health issues.

Breyer’s arrest is part of a larger effort to wrestle with the continuing legacy of the Holocaust. PBS NewsHour Weekend reported on the investigative office in Germany that continues to build case files against former guards, including Breyer.

Kurt Schrimm, the lead investigator from that office told NewsHour, “according to German law we are committed to prosecuting these cases — it is true that because of their age they may never reach trial or go to prison, but it is just and right that we go after these cases.”

Breyer acknowledges being a guard at Auschwitz, but says that he was forced to enlist. If extradited to Germany, Breyer will be charged with 158 counts of aiding and abetting Nazi atrocities.