Johann Breyer Dead: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

An 89-year-old former Auschwitz guard died Wednesday morning in Philadelphia just as he was set to be extradited to Germany to stand trial for war crimes.

Johann Breyer had been ill since June and had been hospitalized over the weekend, according to

Here’s what you need to know:

1. A Judge Approved an Extradition Request to Send Breyer the Same Morning That Breyer Died

CBS Philly’s Kristen Johanson reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent out a decision to extradite Breyer to Germany Wednesday morning. It’s not clear exactly what time Breyer died or whether he was dead before the order was issued.

Breyer’s family has not commented since his passing.

2. He’s Accused of Being a Nazi ‘Death’s Head Guard’ at Auschwitz II-Birkenau

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Breyer was accused of being a Nazi “Death’s Head Guard” at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, CBS Philly reported. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was responsible for the death of more than 200,000 Jews during World War II, according to CBS Philly.

3. Breyer Said he Didn’t Know What Was Happening in the Camp

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According to, Breyer said that, as a guard outside the camp, he had minimal to no contact with the prisoners inside and didn’t know what horrors were committed inside the camp.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 2012, Breyer said, “I didn’t kill anybody, I didn’t rape anybody – and I don’t even have a traffic ticket here. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

His lawyers defended his innocence by saying Breyer was a scared 17-year-old taken from his family’s farm in Slovakia and forced into Nazi service.

Breyer’s lawyer, Dennis Boyle, said of the client in an attempt to stop him from being extradited:

Johann Breyer was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. The persecution of one 90-year-old man who merely wore the uniform of an enlisted member of the SS and went where he was ordered to go cannot atone for the German government’s decades-long failure to prosecute those truly responsible.

4. The U.S. Government Attempted to Revoke his Citizenship in 1992

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According to CBS News, the U.S. government attempted to revoke Breyer’s citizenship in 1992 after discovering his wartime background. However, at the end of an 11-year legal battle, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that, since Breyer had joined the SS as a minor, he couldn’t legally be held responsible for his participation.

But German officials saw Breyer’s service differently. According to, Prosecutors in Weiden, Germany had obtained a warrant for Breyer’s arrest last year. According to the warrant, Breyer’s status as a perimeter guard at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1945 “provided vital support” to the camp, which was responsible for the death of nearly one million Jews.

5. Breyer’s Neighbor Said Breyer ‘Seemed Like an Ordinary Person’

The Los Angeles Times interviewed Breyer’s neighbor of 20 years, Ken Perkins, when news of Breyer’s charges were first reported. Perkin’s said of his neighbor:

He didn’t seem like what history says a Nazi should be like. He just seemed like an ordinary person who wasn’t hiding anything.

Perkins added that, while rumors circulated about Breyer’s past, he dismissed them.

We never got into his life or what he did. I don’t condone what they’re accusing him of, if he did it. But personally, through my experience, he seemed like a nice guy.