June 19th, 2014
11:17 AM ET

89-year-old Philadelphia man accused of being Nazi death-camp guard

(CNN) - An alleged former Nazi camp guard who has lived in the United States since the 1950s is facing possible extradition to Germany following his arrest in Philadelphia, authorities said Wednesday.

Federal authorities are moving to extradite Johann (John) Breyer, an 89-year-old U.S. citizen, who is wanted in Germany for war crimes committed during World War II.

Breyer was arrested in Philadelphia, where he has long lived, on Tuesday. Federal Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice on Wednesday ordered him held without bail, pending an extradition hearing in late August.

According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, German authorities have charged Breyer with complicity in the murder of over 216,000 European Jews from Hungary, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, who were forcibly deported to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp on 158 trains between May and October 1944.

- CNN Religion Editor

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soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. ddeevviinn

    As my loving Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother used to tell me " Man erntet, was man sat."

    June 21, 2014 at 12:50 am |
  2. Richard

    Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;Where there is discord, harmony;
    Where there is error, truth;Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    And where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
    To be consoled as to console;
    To be understood as to understand;
    To be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive;
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

    ~St. Francis

    June 20, 2014 at 9:30 am |
  3. thesamyaza

    hay i know this guy who went into a village in Nam and shot every living person even the animals shouldn't he be brought to trial?

    June 20, 2014 at 12:45 am |
    • bostontola

      If there is solid evidence, yes.

      June 20, 2014 at 12:50 am |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        "I went over to the sargent, said, "Sargeant, you got a lot a damn gall to
        Ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm
        Sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench
        Cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women
        Kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug." He looked at me and
        Said, "Kid, we don't like your kind, and we're gonna send you fingerprints
        Off to Washington."


        I don't think it's so open and shut with enlisted men. Are they complicit? Yes. Are they responsible? It's hard to tell.

        The morals of a soldier are the most tangled construct possible.

        We praise them for defending our freedoms and then ask them to do what in any other situation is the most heinous morally repellent thing possible. It's no wonder it messes with them so badly.

        How can we objectively view the actions of a 17 year-old boy ordered to do something? Something his country praised him for.

        That the command structure is guilty is not a question in my mind. They owned the responsibility for this action. A soldier does not have the right to disobey.

        When they do it is treason.

        June 20, 2014 at 11:02 am |
        • Alias

          Don't over simplify the issues.
          Are you trying to imply that village was full of innocent children?
          After you have been shot at by 'children' in those 'villages' a few times it becomes less clear.

          June 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm |
        • bostontola

          Soldiers are taught the rules of war. They are instructed to disobey illegal orders. If they violate the law, even in war and there is solid evidence, they must be tried. The charges can go up the chain as the evidence points.

          June 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
        • thesamyaza


          does a two year old poses the moral judgment to pick up a gun and kill some one,

          rationalize it how you want, i believed it to be wrong.
          I'm not rationalizing it i acted on my moral convictions, just like they did

          hell if i meet this 89 year old i probably would kick his ass two, luckily hes on the losing side so he will face justice.

          June 20, 2014 at 6:45 pm |
        • mickinmd

          I agree with those who say that if -and ONLY if- he was following orders he should, at the most, be given a community service sentence. If he was in a leadership position who caused more deaths than he could have, then he should be jailed for life.

          Considering he's 89, how many kids could be sent to college, etc. with the money spent on finding a low-level of authority figure?

          June 23, 2014 at 6:02 pm |
    • thesamyaza

      oh i agree sadly its not going to happen the only one of them got 3 years of house arrest

      seriously i kick the living shit out of the guy put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. i figured that's the only justice those in Mỹ Lai are going to get. so kick a veteran for the suffering children around the wold. yep punched a ex Israeli solder the other day in a bar for running his mouth.

      "no respect for vets that's me"

      except for my boys in the IRA and Hamas. and any one else fighting to free them selves from oppressive foreign rule.

      June 20, 2014 at 12:59 am |
      • bostontola

        You think you are judge jury and executioner. What a laugh. Many people died to keep people like you out of power.

        June 20, 2014 at 1:03 am |
        • thesamyaza

          no my heart is judge, my mind is jury, my fist is executioner.

          people like those two would never face justice, because their on the winning side. Justice is entirely in our hand.

          but you know that's how people keep from being held accountable for their actions they kill those that demand they be held accountable.

          June 20, 2014 at 1:16 am |
        • bostontola

          Come back to earth from your fantasy.

          June 20, 2014 at 1:27 am |
        • thesamyaza

          dud I'm the one awake your stuck in the fantasy. Morality is the fantasy the universe doesn't care. i didn't like what they were saying and it made me feel like hitting them so i did, i was not in the right or the wrong just in the moment when the were running their mouth about all the women they raped and children they killed they deserved it in my opinion. how ever the justify it pointless to me. i acted on my animalistic urge not some illusionary sense of morality, construct buy cultural psychology. the beast in my did not want them or need them in my "pack",I felt they ware a danger to me and mine.

          all of that stuff about bringing justice for those they wronged was Icing.

          both, the "man" and the "beast" was sated.in science term (because i know you cant contemplate spirituality) me EGO and ID are A O'K, fuck my super ego the American culture fucked anyways .

          June 20, 2014 at 1:43 am |
        • awanderingscot

          ..another delusional uneducated atheist..

          June 20, 2014 at 8:36 am |
        • bostontola

          You think you're judge, jury, and executioner. Those types of thoughts are anti-social. Your whole tough guy, vigilante persona is your fantasy. Come back to earth and live with the rest of us. It's not so bad to be a good, productive member of the community.

          June 20, 2014 at 8:51 am |
        • thesamyaza


          not an athiest


          I am a productive member of my community I'm a business owner, and i constantly help my community out. i just speak violence better then most. it's a good language old and traditional and always changing so its still new.

          there's not a problem that cannot be solved with the proper application of force.

          June 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm |
  4. bostontola

    The bad news for these guys is that the Germans kept impeccable records. If there is enough evidence, we should respect the extradition request. If he did it, we must remain vigilant. Those crimes are inexcusable.

    June 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm |
  5. flightfromfrostmtn

    Well this is a fine mess.

    I agree with no statute of limitations on murder....i think that anyone involved in holding the innocent – knowing what their fate will be- is a party to murder. But i cannot deny that imprisoning an old man bothers me- even if he's guilty as sin.

    Part of me wants to know what this man did between 1945 to today. They should have tried him just after the war...they didnt and he was allowed to live free... if the man made an overwhelmingly positive impact on the people around him then we should leave it be, the reasoning being that the demons of the past are probably doing more to him than a court could at this late stage.

    June 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      The idea that we can bring about a "state of perfect justice" (after any crime) is a fallacy.

      June 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm |
      • flightfromfrostmtn

        agree for the most part, But there have to be negative consequences for horrific crimes or else the thin veneer on reality that we call civilization will crumble into anarchy where the aggressive rip apart the passive just for the hell of it.

        June 19, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
        • thesamyaza

          realy, on second thought "let this man go"

          seriously this civilization has never been civil. Anarchy would be more civil then what we got know.

          June 20, 2014 at 1:19 am |
  6. Vic

    The smoking gun:

    From the Full Story
    The new complaint states that Breyer was promoted at least once while stationed at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and granted leave to visit his German hometown twice, once in April 1944 and another time in January 1945. The complaint explains that such benefits were not afforded to guards who had refused to perform the full range of duties of an SS "Death's Head Battalion" guard.

    It was common knowledge among guards that prisoners unfit for labor were gassed and their bodies burned, according to the documents.

    In the court documents submitted to the federal magistrate this week, Breyer is said to have made statements since 1951 that are "highly inconsistent with each other and are contrary to existing historical records and other credible evidence." Authorities allege that he deliberately made false statements to minimize his role in the Holocaust.

    p.s. My first impression was how could that fall through the cracks for so long?

    Apparently, it has been an ongoing pursuit that showed inconsistent statements over that time.

    June 19, 2014 at 4:11 pm |
  7. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Millions of unheard voices cry out from their mass graves... vengeance has no statute of limitations

    June 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm |
  8. Reality

    Most of the citizens of Germany during WWII are guilty of crimes against humanity. Most of them escaped prosecution. Deporting this guy will show that we have not nor will we ever forget said crimes.

    June 19, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      A gross exaggeration...

      June 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Every white person in America is guilty of crimes against humanity regarding the systematic relocation and eradication of Native Americans people and their culture. All American white people escaped prosecution.

      June 19, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
      • Reality

        If you are so concerned about the American Indians, pack your bags and donate your land and house to them.

        The wars against the pagan South and North American Indians were initiated by the Christian colonial interests of Spain, Portugal, France and England not the immigrants that finally became the majority.

        June 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm |
      • realbuckyball

        Human values evolve. The present sets of "Native Americans" were one wave of North American settlers. They were not the first. Human values evolve. Not everyone understood what evil was being done. For hundreds of thousands of years, the latest set of human settlers eradicated the previous set(s). Not saying it was good, but that's what happened. There is nothing totally "unique" about these sets. (So much for "absolute moral values").

        However the Germany people must accept some responsibility for what happened, (and they did, and do).
        Hitler could not have done anything by himself. Wasn't Germany a "Christian" nation ?

        June 19, 2014 at 5:16 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        On the subject of reparations:


        June 19, 2014 at 5:18 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        I think my sarcasm was misinterpreted. ..

        June 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm |
    • Alias

      It's not like they made one Pope or anything ...

      June 20, 2014 at 3:33 pm |
  9. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    I don't know how I feel about hunting down octogenarians for crimes they committed as an indoctrinated teenager. (This individual was perhaps 20 in 1945.)

    The linked article actually states: "In 2003, a U.S. court ruled that he was not responsible for joining a Nazi unit because he was only 17 years old at the time."

    The holocaust was horribly, horribly wrong. I understand why people might not want a statute of limitations, but we are talking about someone who was a teenager here. Consistency is important.

    Do we similarly seek and extradite Rwandan Hutu boys who killed Tutsis in 1994? In fact there is a big religiously inspired movement for reconciliation in Rwanda.

    Do we similarly seek and extradite Cambodian Khmer Rouge boys who killed for Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979?

    If we did, then the action to extradite this man for the horrible crimes with which he was complicit as a teenager is fair. If not, I am forced to question the motive.

    June 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm |
    • Akira

      I, too, am conflicted on this issue.

      June 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm |
    • neverbeenhappieratheist

      In 1942 he's 17 and has been through the Hitler youth camps and he joins the military. Breyer has admitted he was a guard at Auschwitz in Poland during World War II and told The AP he was stationed outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp part of the complex and had nothing to do with the wholesale slaughter of about 1.5 million Jews and others behind the gates. The slaughters occur between May and October 1944 when Breyer was 19. If nothing else he knew what was going on and cannot claim to just be stationed "outside" as if he wouldn't have gone into the camps or been speaking with other guards who knew exactly what was going on. He was a willing, albeit indoctrinated, participant which is what the court is attempting to prove. If he is guilty then he should be charged. He received far too many years free after those crimes and now he will pay some price even though its only taking away his dementia years as his attorney Dennis Boyle claims he has mild dementia from previously suffered strokes.

      June 19, 2014 at 3:35 pm |
      • realbuckyball

        I would like to know what exactly a 19 yo was supposed to have done in Germany at that time. Desertion meant death. Was he to desert, knowing what it meant ? (I don't know ... just asking).

        June 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Thanks for the extra detail. Several questions remain:

      1. Why did this take so long?

      " If nothing else he knew what was going on and cannot claim to just be stationed "outside" as if he wouldn't have gone into the camps or been speaking with other guards who knew exactly what was going on."

      2. Wasn't pretty much everyone in Germany equally complicit?

      3. Why don't we give Tutsis, Cambodians, Bosniak Muslims or any other victim of numerous genocides the same status for retributive justice accorded to Nazi holocaust victims, (which of course includes Jews, Romany, gays, etc).

      June 19, 2014 at 5:14 pm |
  10. Doc Vestibule

    I wonder how long it'll be before the comment threads devolve into arguments about Hitler's religion (or lack thereof).

    June 19, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The religious corollary of Godwin's Law* always applies here, in this particular discussion, it's *almost* (but not quite) on topic.

      "As an online discussion on religion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler's faith approaches 1"

      Perhaps for this topic we could project that:

      In an online discussion on religion and Nazis, the probability of a discussion involving Hitler's faith equals 1 and will happen within the first x posts, where x is y% of the number of regular posters.

      We just have to solve for either x or y. I'm going with about 20% for y.

      June 19, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
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