Nazi war criminal dies in hospitalThis undated file image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I. (AP)
Thu, July 24, 2014 - 9:03 AM
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – German efforts to prosecute aging war criminals suffered a setback this week with the death of a retired Philadelphia toolmaker who had long been in the crosshairs of Nazi hunters.
Bavarian prosecutors had hoped to extradite 89-year-old Johann “Hans” Breyer over his alleged service as a Waffen SS guard at Auschwitz in 1944.
However, Breyer died at a Philadelphia hospital Tuesday, hours before a United States judge approved the extradition request. Breyer had spent a month in jail since his arrest on charges of accessory to murder in the deaths of 216 000 Jews.
“It is very unfortunate that Breyer died but this in no way shape or form should discourage the prosecution of Nazi perpetrators who can still be brought to justice,” said Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem.
Breyer’s death was disclosed yesterday just as U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice approved the extradition request, which would still have needed final U.S. government review.
Rice found probable cause that Breyer was the person being sought by German prosecutors in the Bavarian town of Weiden over his suspected service as an SS guard at Auschwitz during World War II.
“No statute of limitations offers a safe haven for murder,” Rice wrote in his 31-page ruling.
“A death camp guard such as Breyer could not have served at Auschwitz during the peak of the Nazi reign of terror in 1944 without knowing that hundreds of thousands of human beings were being brutally slaughtered in gas chambers and then burned on site,” Rice wrote.
Breyer had claimed he was unaware of the massive slaughter at Auschwitz and then that he did not participate in it, but “the German allegations belie his claims”, the judge wrote.
Breyer died at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, according to his lawyer, Dennis Boyle, and the U.S. Marshals Service. The lawyer said Breyer’s health had deteriorated in jail but he didn’t know the cause of death.
Boyle had argued in bail papers that Breyer was too frail to remain in custody, given his history of heart disease, stroke and dementia.
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