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Hospitalized Nazi guard suspect, 89, gets bail

July 22, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An 89-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect who was jailed while awaiting extradition to Germany has been granted bail after being hospitalized.

Johann “Hans” Breyer can await the outcome of his extradition fight at his Philadelphia home if he is released from the hospital, a judge ruled Monday, reversing his ruling on bail because of Breyer’s condition.

German prosecutors in the Bavarian town of Weiden hope to try Breyer on charges of aiding in the deaths of more than 200,000 Jews killed at the Auschwitz death camp. Breyer has said that he was forced to work there as a guard in his teens but that he never took part in the mass slaughter.

“While at Auschwitz, Mr. Breyer acted predominantly as a guard to the exterior of the camp,” his lawyers wrote in a brief filed Friday that argued against his extradition. “The only interaction Mr. Breyer had with the prisoners was on three or four occasions he escorted some prisoners to a work site. This was the extent of his interaction with the prisoners.”

Court filings do not detail what led to Breyer’s hospitalization or where he is being treated. Neither his lawyers nor U.S. authorities assisting the State Department in the extradition request immediately returned messages Tuesday.

His lawyers have argued in court that Breyer’s health was deteriorating after he spent several weeks in a federal detention center in Philadelphia since his June 17 arrest. They said he suffers from heart problems and dementia and has had a stroke in recent years. And they said he has only vague memories of his wartime service.

Breyer, a retired toolmaker, has lived in Philadelphia since 1952. He was born in a farming village in modern-day Slovakia to an American-born mother. He previously survived U.S. efforts to be stripped of his citizenship when a judge said he had entered the Waffen SS a few weeks before his 18th birthday.

In the extradition case, his lawyers argue that he had no choice but to report when he was conscripted and that he later wanted to desert but feared he would be executed.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Breyer said in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press.

However, U.S. prosecutors said that Breyer would have known people were being killed even if he was stationed outside because of the “continuous smoke and smell of burning human flesh” from the death chambers. He neither deserted nor sought a transfer to the front lines, they said.

“As an armed guard in the Death’s Head Guard Battalion at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Breyer’s responsibilities involved preventing the escape of the civilian Jewish men, women and children,” prosecutors wrote. “Breyer was promoted at least once and granted home leave twice while stationed (there).”

Breyer is married and has adult children and grandchildren. He has led a quiet, middle-class life over several decades in northeast Philadelphia.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice, who granted bail, canceled an extradition hearing scheduled for Thursday, citing Breyer’s hospitalization. He said he’ll make a decision based on written arguments.

German authorities in Weiden issued a warrant for Breyer’s arrest in June 2013. The warrant accuses Breyer of 158 counts of accessory to murder — one count for each trainload of victims taken to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland from May 1944 to October 1944.

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