A former Nazi concentration camp guard died hours before a judge on Wednesday ordered his extradition to Germany, where he faced charges of aiding and abetting the deaths of 216,000 Jews.
Johann Breyer, 89, who served during World War Two as an armed guard at Buchenwald and Auschwitz and emigrated to Philadelphia in 1952, died overnight, said Jim Burke, a supervisory deputy at the U.S. Marshal’s Service. He said Breyer had been held at a Philadelphia hospital.
An email notifying U.S. Federal Magistrate Timothy Rice of the death arrived on Wednesday after the judge had filed his order for Breyer’s extradition to Germany, Rice’s secretary said.
German authorities said Breyer was tied to the deaths of 216,000 Jews, a figure arrived at by estimating the survival rate of prisoners packed into 158 trains that arrived at Auschwitz from May to October 1944, according to documents.
Breyer served as an armed guard at Buchenwald before transferring in 1944 to Auschwitz where, according to court documents, he said he served as a perimeter guard.
“Even assuming Breyer participated only minimally when he served as a Death’s Head guard at Auschwitz, the Request for Extradition sets forth ample probable cause to believe that his service as an armed guard at a genocidal death camp constitutes aiding and abetting murder,” Rice wrote in his opinion.
The retired tool-and-die maker, born in Czechoslovakia, joined the Waffen SS at age 17. He had argued that he was coerced into joining and was not involved in deaths at the camps.
Rice found that Breyer could have requested a transfer to a traditional military unit serving on the Eastern Front, and thus his service at Auschwitz could be considered voluntary.
Breyer’s death comes days after he was released from Philadelphia’s Federal Detention Center where his medical condition had worsened.
Breyer had suffered from dementia and other ailments, his lawyers said in court papers.
Earlier in the week, Breyer’s lawyers won a long fought battle to have bail set for their increasingly ill client, who since his arrest on June 18 had been held in a prison ward for elderly and infirm detainees.