It was a long time coming but Johann Breyer’s past has come back to haunt him.
The former concentration camp guard was charged with 158 counts of complicit commission in the murder of thousands of European Jews.
Johann Breyer, 89, this week faced the Philadelphia courtroom where prosecutors accused him of “systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of European Jews, transported between May 1944 and October 1944 in 158 trainloads to Auschwitz,” according to federal court documents.
“Approximately 216,000 Jewish men, women and children from Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia [were] transported by these trains,” according to reports in the Washington Post.
Known as “Hans” by his neighbours in Pennypack Park, Philadelphia – where he worked for 32 years as a tool and dye maker – the Third Reich’s most notorious death camp guard has denied the allegations.
However, he was arrested on Tuesday, one year after a German court charged him and asked for his extradition.
If successful, Breyer, one of the last living members of the SS “Death’s Head” Nazi battalion, will be the oldest person ever extradited from the United States to face allegations of Nazi crimes.
Breyer denies culpability. He claims he was ignorant of the executions at Auschwitz, where more than a million Jews were killed.
“Not the slightest idea, never, never, ever,” Breyer told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992.
“All I know is from the television. What was happening at the camps, it never came up at that time.”
He added in a 2012 interview with the Associated Press: “I didn’t kill anybody. I didn’t rape anybody… I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Prosecutors say that doesn’t matter. His mere presence at Auschwitz is enough to merit extradition.
“He is charged with aiding and abetting those deaths,” Assistant US Attorney Andrea Foulkes told the Inquirer.
“Proof doesn’t require him to have personally pulled any levers. His guarding made it possible for those killings to happen.”
Breyer, whose bail was denied, is fighting extradition. “I’m an American citizen, just as if I had been born here,” he told the AP in 2012. “They can’t deport me.”