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Philly Nazi suspect dies as extradition request OK'd

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 7:45 p.m.
FILE - This undated file image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I, Poland, which was liberated by the Russians in January 1945. Writing over the gate reads: 'Arbeit macht frei' (Work makes free - or work liberates). The lawyer for Nazi war crimes suspect Johann 'Hans' Breyer says the 89-year-old Philadelphia man died Tuesday, July 22, 2014 while awaiting extradition to Germany. German prosecutors had hoped to try Breyer on charges of aiding in the murder of more than 200,000 Jews at the Auschwitz death camp. (AP Photo/File)

PHILADELPHIA — An 89-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect died in custody hours before a ruling on Wednesday that he should be extradited to Germany to face trial.

Johann Breyer died on Tuesday night at a Philadelphia hospital, where he had been transferred on Saturday after a month in jail, his lawyer and the U.S. Marshals Service said. His death was disclosed on Wednesday just as Magistrate Timothy Rice approved the extradition request, which would still have needed final U.S. government review.

Rice found probable cause that Breyer was the person being sought by German authorities over his suspected service as an SS guard at Auschwitz during World War II.

“No statute of limitations offers a safe haven for murder,” he wrote in his ruling.

Marshals had arrested Breyer in June outside his longtime home in Philadelphia. He was facing charges of aiding in the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children at a Nazi death camp.

“As outlined by Germany, a death camp guard such as Breyer could not have served at Auschwitz during the peak of the Nazi reign of terror in 1944 without knowing that hundreds of thousands of human beings were being brutally slaughtered in gas chambers and then burned on site,” Rice wrote.

“A daily parade of freight trains delivered hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, most of whom simply vanished overnight. Yet, the screams, the smells, and the pall of death permeated the air. The allegations establish that Breyer can no longer deceive himself and others of his complicity in such horror,” the judge said.

Breyer claimed he was unaware of the slaughter at Auschwitz and then that he did not participate in it, but “the German allegations belie his claims,” the judge wrote.

The 2013 warrant accused Breyer of 158 counts of accessory to murder — one count for each trainload of victims brought to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland from May to October 1944, when he was allegedly a guard there.

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