The passage of time and a shrinking list of suspected war criminals who are still alive mean 89-year-old Johann Breyer of Philadelphia could be the last U.S. citizen ever prosecuted for Nazi atrocities, an Anti-Defamation League official told Newsmax TV
Investigative agencies and private organizations "continue to look for individuals, and they do believe there are still some out there," ADL Deputy National Director Ken Jacobson told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.
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"Though the feeling is … that it's possible this [Breyer case] might be the last such case that we will succeed in doing in the States."
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Breyer, a retired machinist, was arrested Tuesday
and ordered held without bail after Germany identified him as a former guard at Auschwitz, the World War II Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland, and issued a warrant for his extradition.
Breyer, a Czech native with an American-born mother, has admitted to joining the Waffen SS as a teenager but said he deserted the Nazi army weeks later. He denies ever working at Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp where an estimated 216,000 people were murdered.
The United States tried but failed to revoke Breyer's U.S. citizenship in the 1990s to clear the way for an extradition to Germany.
"What's different now," said Jacobson, "is that the German prosecutors have begun to take this seriously. They realize … time is running out with so many of those who were involved in the atrocities passing away."
Jacobson said time has not clouded the case against Breyer because Auschwitz's overseers kept detailed records.
"There's huge documentation surrounding this case," he said, "all the evidence that, in fact, he was very involved in the process which is known as the selection process, in which the Jews came off the trains and then they were selected — which ones would go directly to extermination, and which not."
Jacobson said Breyer's likeliest defenses, along with his U.S. citizenship, are age and infirmity. Breyer's lawyer has said his client is in deteriorating health and suffers from dementia, and could be extradited to Germany as soon as Aug. 21.
"Sometimes you see the face of an elderly man [and] you say, 'Oh, why are we doing this to an elderly man?'" said Jacobson. "Just try to think of the 216,000 individuals — men, women, and children who were connected to his service there, who were murdered at Auschwitz."
Jacobson said Breyer and others like him "were able to live normal lives for decades … while the families of those who perished suffered for eternity."
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