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Documents raise doubts in Nazi probe
Question of the Day
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. The interview was the only one Breyer has given to the media.
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. Breyer joined at age 17 and was called up in 1943.
In testimony in 2002, he told the U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania that he had been sent to Auschwitz from Buchenwald in May 1944, then was given leave in August and returned home. He testified that he stayed in hiding in and around his home until the Soviet army closed in.
According to Breyer, the town’s mayor provided him a letter asking for authorities to excuse his desertion because he had been needed on the family farm. Breyer testified that the letter worked with Nazi authorities, and that he was able to eventually rejoin his unit fighting outside Berlin in the final weeks of the war.
The documents, however, call his testimony into question, suggesting he was at Auschwitz through the rest of 1944 and into 1945, which would have meant he was there during the time some 426,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz, 320,000 of whom went directly into the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
A form from SS administrative authorities, filled out on Jan. 17, 1945 in Pressburg, which today is Bratislava, Slovakia, indicates that the previous day Breyer was there in person and applied for — and was granted — financial assistance for his parents’ farm while he was away serving in the SS.
And it notes that Breyer at the time of the application was based at “Auschwitz 2.”
In a 2002 case in the United States, the judge questioned the trustworthiness of the document — noting among other things that the birthdates of both of Breyer’s parents were wrong, and the size of his family farm was written down as double what it actually was. In his testimony, Breyer suggested the document was “a fraud.”
But a court expert testified there was no evidence of a forgery. And U.S. federal prosecutors noted that Breyer’s date of birth, date of induction into the SS, profession, parents’ names and hometown are all correct. They also cited Breyer’s first interrogation in 1991, when he told investigators he had gone home after “they granted me vacation end January ‘45” — which fits with the timeline of the document.
In the current German case, Thomas Walther, a former prosecutor in Schrimm’s office, said it was also plausible to think that Breyer would have made his parents seem older, and his farm larger, in order to bolster the case for receiving assistance.
If nothing else, he said, the document and other evidence raise enough suspicion for prosecutors to file charges.
“Where this evidence fits has to be decided at trial, regardless of what the U.S. judge said the German court needs to decide,” said Walther, who is now in private practice and represents several family members of Jewish victims at Auschwitz who have joined the investigation as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law.
Weiden prosecutor Gerhard Heindl, who is heading the current investigation, said he could not comment on any evidence.
Another document, an April 26, 1944 letter to the SS administration in Pressburg from the leader of the pro-Nazi Slovakian “Deutsche Partei,” makes a case to have Breyer excused from his duties to help on his family’s farm, noting that he was assigned at the time to the 8th Company of the SS Totenkopf in Auschwitz.
The 8th Company was stationed at Auschwitz II during the time Breyer is alleged to have been there, according to camp orders cited by Raul Hilberg in his book “The Destruction of the European Jews.”
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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