Former Auschwitz guard arrested in Northeast Philly

Federal authorities have arrested an 89-year-old Northeast Philadelphia man for extradition to Germany to face charges he abetted murders at a Nazi death camp in World War II.

Johann Breyer joined the Waffen SS at age 17, and authorities have been questioning him for more than 20 years about his activities during the war. He admitted he was a guard at Auschwitz, primarily a labor camp, but denied he was ever at a part of the camp known Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where more than a million people were murdered.

Newly discovered documents suggest Breyer was indeed at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and he’s charged in a warrant from a court in Weiden, Germany, with complicity in the murder of 158 trainloads of European Jews, about 216,000 people who were “murdered in gas chambers and cremated upon their arrival at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.”

Efraim Zurof, an Israeli historian and the chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group, said in a telephone interview no one should forgive or forget someone’s crimes just because the perpetrator is very old.

“If he’s physically and mentally able to face charges, there’s absolutely no reason to ignore him,” Zurof said. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. Old age should not afford protection for people like this.”

Breyer will remain in custody until an Aug. 21 extradition hearing in Philadelphia. Calls to his family and lawyer were not returned.

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