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Nazi War Crimes Suspect Dies In U.S. One Day Before Extradition Order

The main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I in German-occupied Poland, where Johann "Hans" Breyer served as a guard.
The main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I in German-occupied Poland, where Johann "Hans" Breyer served as a guard.

A judge in Philadelphia issued an order today granting a request for a former Nazi camp guard to be extradited to Germany, but 89-year-old Johann "Hans" Breyer died Tuesday, his lawyer told The Associated Press.

Attorney Dennis Boyle told the news agency that Breyer died Tuesday night at a Philadelphia hospital. According to Boyle, Breyer had heart disease and dementia.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas R. Rice said in his ruling: "There is probable cause to believe that Breyer ... is the same person sought for aiding and abetting murder in Germany."

The extradition request was subject to U.S. government approval.

We told you about Breyer earlier this month when a judge denied him bail. The AP reported at the time:

"German authorities hope to try Breyer on accessory-to-murder charges for his guard service at the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. Breyer told The Associated Press in 2012 that he was forced to work there as an SS guard but never took part in the mass killing of Jews and others."

Breyer was arrested last month and charged with 158 counts of accessory to murder — one for each trainload of victims brought to Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland between May 1944 and October 1944.

He had immigrated to the U.S. in 1952. An attempt to strip the retired toolmaker of his citizenship in the 1990s failed because he was a natural-born U.S. citizen through his mother, and a judge said that he was coerced into joining the SS while still a minor.

German authorities had hoped to try him on the criminal charges in Weiden, Bavaria.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur
Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.