Oldest Nazi Yet, an 89-Year-Old Accused Auschwitz Guard, Arrested in U.S.

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Photo: Andreas Rentz/2010 Getty Images

Johann Breyer, an 89-year-old immigrant originally from Czechoslovakia, appeared in Philadelphia court today on charges that he worked as a Nazi SS guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. The New York Times reports that Breyer, who has lived in this country since 1952, "is the oldest person ever accused of ties to the Third Reich by United States authorities."

From the Times:

Mr. Breyer is accused of working as an armed guard at Auschwitz and taking part in the murders of “hundreds of thousands” of Jews from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany in 1944. Officials said he had worked at the part of the camp known as “Auschwitz 2,” or Birkenau, a section that was particularly notorious. While the Nazis used other parts of Auschwitz for slave labor, the Birkenau section was used exclusively to kill victims in gas chambers.

After a failed attempt in 1992, Germany, in a renewed push to punish those still alive, is once again hoping to have him extradited to face 158 counts of aiding and abetting Nazis. The first time the U.S. tried to deport him, Breyer wiggled out of it by claiming U.S. citizenship because his mother was born here. This time, "Appearing pale and thin, he was stooped over and walked with difficulty with a cane," the Times reports.

Breyer has said his service was "involuntary," but he was denied bail today because of what a judge called "the serious nature of the crime."

Last year, a 94-year-old in Minnesota revealed himself to be a living, original Nazi in an ill-advised, self-published memoir. Representatives from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center told Intelligencer at the time that there "could be hundreds" of Nazi war criminals in the U.S. "I often say that people without a conscience live longer," said the director of the office in Israel. "Less stress."

At least one of them is still living in Queens. Jakiw Palij, a Polish immigrant in his 90s accused of having worked at a concentration camp, has been stripped of his citizenship (despite denying he was ever SS) but never deported. "I'm not running," he told the Times in 2003. "What will they do? Shoot me? Put me in the electric chair? Where are they going to deport me to? What country is going to take an 80-year-old man in poor health?''