This is Efram Zuroff, a Nazi-hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles. You likely know that the Center is and has been responsible for hunting down numbers of those who created/carried out the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. In 1960 it was Mr. Wiesenthal and the Israeli Mossad who snatched up Adolf Eichmann on-the-lam in Buenos Aires. Eichmann, of course, was a chief architect of the 'solution', tried and hanged at Jerusalem in 1962. (It is his trial and its moral and political implications that inform Hannah Arendt's groundbreaking journalistic and historical masterwork, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on The Banality of Evil.) Recently, the Center was instrumental in bringing now-deceased naturalized American citizen John Demjanjuk to trial, in Germany. (He died at 91 while the proceedings were going forward.)
This piece (edited for length), by Matt Moore in 'HuffPo', is about the running to ground of 87-year-old Hans Breyer, found living in Philadelphia. The Wiesenthal Center says Mr. Breyer was an Auschwitz-Birkenau guard who lied about his past on official forms in order to be able to emigrate to the United States (as Mr. Demjanjuk did) and that he remains responsible for war crimes. Mr. Breyer, for his part, says he is innocent.
What's your take? Is there benefit in searching for every last Second War Nazi and exacting some form of Justice? Can there be Justice, or a measure of it, in these cases? Are there specific downsides in tracking these last men down? Lasting, worthwhile benefits?
Thanks, in advance, for your sense of this.
Note: I could find no photos of Mr. Breyer.
PHILADELPHIA — The chief Nazi hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Center says age and the passage of time are no barriers to investigating alleged Nazi activity during World War II. If a person is charged with war crimes, you don't just ignore the crime because a suspect has reached old age, said Efraim Zuroff, who called the German-led investigation of now 87-year-old Johann "Hans" Breyer of Philadelphia a powerful message that such efforts will continue.
Germany has launched a war crimes investigation against Breyer on allegations that he served as an SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp complex after years of failed attempts by the U.S. to revoke his citizenship.
"I had nothing to do with the camp," [Mr. Breyer] said. Breyer said he was at a nearby SS camp where he was trained to use a light infantry cannon.
For more than a decade, the Department of Justice waged court battles to have Breyer deported. They revolved around whether Breyer had lied about his Nazi past in applying for immigration or whether he could have citizenship through his American-born mother. That ended in 2003, with a ruling that allowed him to stay in the United States, mainly on the grounds that he had joined the SS as a minor and could therefore not be held legally responsible for participation in it.
The Justice Department noted that it had proved, in court, that Breyer was involved in "Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution while serving as an SS guard" at Buchenwald and Auschwitz during World War II. "Findings concerning his mother's birth and the date of his SS enlistment made it legally impossible to deport him from the United States," Rebekah Carmichael, a department spokeswoman, told the AP in an email Monday."
German officials have not yet filed charges against Breyer; he could be charged with accessory to murder, the same legal theory that prosecutors in Munich used to try and convict former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk on charges served as a death camp guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland. Under [Germany's] legal theory, anyone who was involved in the operation of a death camp was an accessory to murder.
About 1.5 million people, primarily Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz camp complex between 1940 and 1945.
This image was obtained by The Associated Press from the National Archives through a Freedom of Information Act request and 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 said he deserted.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Upper Silesia, Poland, January, 1941