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War crimes

Auschwitz Nazi guard dies, eludes extradition

US authorities say an 89-year-old man who was a SS guard at Auschwitz in 1944 has died in Philadelphia while facing extradition to Germany for trial. Johann Breyer had been arrested in June.

A US federal judge's extradition order for an elderly Nazi war suspect was halted late Wednesday by an email that the Czech-born Johann Breyer had just died in custody at a Philadelphia hospital.

The news reached US Federal Magistrate Timothy Rice just after he had filed his order for Breyer's extradition to Germany.

The head investigator at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff, said Breyer's passing without facing trial "hurts the families of the victims."

Court documents said Breyer joined the Waffen SS at the age of 17 and became a concentration camp guard, first at Buchenwald, and then at Auschwitz during 1944.

Emigrated quietly to US

Breyer emigrated to the US in 1952 and lived a quiet life until arrested last year on charges brought by German authorities that he had aided in the killing of 216,000 Jewish children, women and men.

That count stemmed from the number of Jewish detainees packed into 158 trains that arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp from May to October 1944.

Breyer and his lawyers had claimed that he was not involved in the deaths and he had been coerced as a minor into joining the SS.

Warrant issued under revised law

His arrest warrant was based on revised German laws that allow former Nazi guards to be charged with accessory to murder, because the sole function of the camps was to murder people.

The same legal strategy was used in 2011 to convict the late US autoworker John Demjanjuk on charges he worked as a guard at Sobibor in the-then Nazi occupied Poland.

Judge rejects claim

Magistrate Rice, writing about Breyer's case, said 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."

In 1992, the US government tried to revoke Breyer's citizenship after discovering his wartime background, during a years-long legal saga.

ipj/jr (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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