U.S. authorities arrested retired toolmaker Johann 'Hans' Breyer on Tuesday. He spent the night in custody and appeared frail during a detention hearing in federal court, where he wore an olive green prison jumpsuit and carrying a cane.
Legal filings unsealed today indicate that the district court in Weiden, Germany, issued a warrant for Breyer's arrest the day before, charging him with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder.
Breyer was born in 1925 in what was then Czechoslovakia to an ethnic German father and an American mother, Katharina, who was born in Philadelphia. Slovakia became a separate state in 1939 under the influence of Nazi Germany.
In 1942, the Waffen SS embarked on a drive to recruit ethnic Germans there and Breyer joined at age 17. The fact he was a minor at the time was critical in the 2003 decision to allow him to stay in the United States.
In 1951, American military authorities in Germany carried out a background check on Breyer when he first applied for a visa to the U.S.
The file from that investigation lists him as being with a SS Totenkopf, or 'Death's Head', battalion in Auschwitz as late as Dec. 29, 1944, four months after he said he deserted.
Breyer has admitted he was a guard at Auschwitz in occupied Poland during World War II, but has told The Associated Press he was stationed outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp part of the complex and had nothing to do with the wholesale slaughter of about 1.5 million Jews and others behind the gates.
In a 2012 AP interview at his modest row house in northeastern Philadelphia, Breyer acknowledged that he was in the Waffen SS at Auschwitz but that he never served at the part of the camp responsible for the extermination of Jews. During the interview, Breyer said he had recently suffered three 'mini-strokes', but he was cogent and clear as he talked about his past for more than an hour.
'I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody, and I don't even have a traffic ticket here,' he said. 'I didn't do anything wrong.'
He said he was aware of what was going on inside the death camp, but did not witness it himself. 'We could only see the outside, the gates,' he said.
Following his arrest, Breyer's attorney Dennis Boyle argued his client is now too infirm to be detained pending a hearing on his possible extradition to Germany.
Breyer has mild dementia and heart issues and has previously suffered strokes, Boyle said.
'Mr. Breyer is not a threat to anyone,' said Boyle. 'He's not a flight risk.'
But Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice ruled the detention center was equipped to care for Breyer, who appeared to comprehend questions about the nature of the hearing.
A law enforcement officer also testified Breyer and his elderly wife grasped what was happening during his arrest on Tuesday outside their home in northeast Philadelphia.
'They both understood,' deputy marshal Daniel Donnelly said. 'It wasn't news to them.'
Breyer has been under investigation by prosecutors in the Bavarian town of Weiden, near where he last lived in Germany.
The Army Investigative Records Repository file, obtained by the AP from the National Archives through a Freedom of Information Act request, is significant because judges in 2003 said Breyer's testimony on desertion was part of what convinced them that his service with the Waffen SS after turning 18 might not have been voluntary, further mitigating his wartime responsibility.
Breyer testified in U.S. court that he served as a perimeter guard at Auschwitz I, which was largely for prisoners used as slave laborers, though it also had a makeshift gas chamber used early in the war; it was also the camp where SS doctor Josef Mengele carried out sadistic experiments on inmates.
But he denied ever serving in Auschwitz II, better known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp area where the bulk of the people were killed.
This photo from January 1945 shows Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where Johann Breyer is said to have been a guard.
He also said he deserted in August, 1944 and never returned to the camp, though eventually rejoined his unit fighting outside Berlin in the final weeks of the war.
Also weighing in Breyer's favor with the judges was his testimony that he refused to have the SS tattoo; he does not have such a mark today or evidence that one was removed.
This image obtained from the National Archives shows a U.S. Army intelligence card on Johann 'Hans' Breyer, indicating he served in Auschwitz as of Dec 29, 1944, four months after he says he deserted.