70 Years Later, Police Arrest Alleged Nazi in Philadelphia

“There is no statute of limitations,” the court document filed against him reads.

A Nazi SS-man inspects a group of Jewish workers in April 1943 in the Ghetto of Warsaw.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
June 18, 2014, 12:13 p.m.

Sev­enty-two years ago, Jo­hann Brey­er al­legedly joined the Ger­man SS. On Tues­day, per a U.S. fed­er­al Dis­trict Court or­der, he was ar­res­ted for it.

Brey­er, a Czech-born Phil­adelphia res­id­ent, was charged with be­ing com­pli­cit in the murder of 158 train­loads of Jews in 1944. “There is no stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions,” the court doc­u­ment filed against him reads. In sum­mary, the fil­ing states:

Ac­cused is wanted by the Fed­er­al Re­pub­lic of Ger­many, on a war­rant is­sued on June 17, 2013, by the Dis­trict Court of Weiden, Ger­many, char­ging him with com­pli­citly in (i.e., aid­ing and abet­ting) the com­mis­sion of murder (158 counts) at the Aus­chwitz II-Birkenau camp of the Aus­chwitz con­cen­tra­tion camp com­plex for the which the Fed­er­al Re­pub­lic of Ger­many form­ally re­quest the ar­rest and ex­tra­di­tion of the ac­cused from the United States for tri­al in Ger­many on these of­fenses …

The Phil­adelphia In­quirer re­ports that Brey­er had pre­vi­ously ad­mit­ted to work­ing at the Aus­chwitz II-Birkenau camp, but has said “he had noth­ing to do with the slaughter of mil­lions of Jews and oth­ers be­lieved to have died in­side the gates.”

Ger­many — so many dec­ades re­moved from the war — still act­ively seeks out and pro­sec­utes those in­volved in Nazi war crimes, re­gard­less of the sus­pects’ ad­vanced age. In 2013, the Ger­man of­fice that in­vest­ig­ates such mat­ters re­com­men­ded the pro­sec­u­tion of 30 former guards, along with a newly in­vig­or­ated re­solve to find more.

“My per­son­al opin­ion is that in view of the mon­stros­ity of these crimes, one owes it to the sur­viv­ors and the vic­tims not to simply say ‘a cer­tain time has passed, it should be swept un­der the car­pet,’ ” Kurt Schrimm, a Ger­man of­fi­cial who heads a spe­cial Nazi pro­sec­utor’s of­fice, told the Ger­man pa­perDer Spiegel. Schrimm has also said that even those who worked in con­cen­tra­tion-camp kit­chens could be seen as be­ing com­pli­cit to murder.

Brey­er, ac­cord­ing The New York Times, came to the United States in 1952. The U.S. tried to de­port him in 1992, over charges that he hid his al­leged Nazi past from his nat­ur­al­iz­a­tion pa­pers. But Brey­er suc­cess­fully ar­gued he was a leg­al U.S. cit­izen, hav­ing been born to an Amer­ic­an wo­man. Now, Ger­many has called for his ex­tra­di­tion. He may cur­rently be suf­fer­ing with mild de­men­tia (ac­cord­ing to his law­yer). The court has yet to de­cide wheth­er to send him to Ger­many for tri­al, though it looks likely. He has been denied bail.

It’s also likely that Brey­er will be the last per­son on Amer­ic­an soil charged with Nazi crimes. The Ger­man gov­ern­ment may want to chase down WWII-era crim­in­als, but time is chas­ing them down, too.

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