PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - An 89-year-old man wanted in Germany for working as a concentration camp guard during World War Two said in court filings on Friday that he should not be deported because his service in the Waffen SS was involuntary.
”What can be said with certainty is that Mr. Breyer is not a war criminal,” lawyers for Johann Breyer said in documents in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
The legal papers were filed ahead of a July 24 court hearing to determine if Breyer, a retired tool-and-die maker who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1952, should be extradited to Germany.
German authorities have charged him with aiding and abetting 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 between May and 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 has said he served as a perimeter guard but had deserted his unit in order to help his ailing parents.
Breyer, who was born in Czechoslovakia and joined the Waffen SS at age 17, has argued before that he was not involved in the deaths at the camps.
“All of the evidence presented on behalf of the German government by the U.S. government demonstrates that Johann Breyer was born in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the documents filed on Friday said.
“He was forced into a service he did not want to enter as a teenager, and for his trouble, ended up in a Soviet Prisoner-of-War Camp,” the court papers said.
The Justice Department first accused Breyer of Nazi ties and tried to deport him in 1992, but he was ultimately allowed to stay in the country after a legal fight that hinged on his claims that he was born a U.S. citizen.
Officials say newly discovered evidence has strengthened their case against Breyer. War-era records indicate that he was at Auschwitz earlier in the war than he acknowledged and that he served as a guard in a particularly notorious subcamp, known as Birkenau or “Auschwitz 2,” which was used exclusively to kill prisoners.
He has been held in a federal detention facility in Philadelphia since his arrest in June.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh