An 89–year-old Philadelphia man who has lived in America since 1952 may be extradited to Germany. Johann “Hans” Breyer is accused of complicity in the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women, and children at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.
His arrest comes near the June 21 anniversary of the Freedom Summer killings of 21-year old black Mississippian James Chaney, and white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24. Edgar Ray Killen, who led the mob that killed them, was convicted in 2005, 41 years after the crime.
Justice delayed is justice denied, according to the proverb. But the tenacity of those who pursue justice over decades is a righteous thing. I treasure the Nazi hunters, the friends and relatives of the murdered, the lawyers, the protectors, the police, and the courts. They all stand for the idea that a human life is unalterably precious.
Cold Case Justice
The Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) of Syracuse University received an award during the National Civil Rights Conference in Philadelphia, Miss., on June 15. “As their motto says, it’s never too late for justice and so many individuals have been waiting 50 years or more,” said Keith Parker, chair of the National Civil Rights Conference, in a university news release. “The CCJI provides some relief and some answers for the community and loved ones. They have shown that justice can prevail even when delayed.”
In the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” hotelier Paul Rusesabagina advises a military official that the genocide will have a reckoning. The man takes the idea to heart. It was examples like that of the Nazi hunters that convinced him.
It is true that Killens and Birmingham church bomber Bobby Frank Cherry lived free for decades after their heinous acts. Breyer, if he is guilty, also had a long free life after a terrible crime. But I like to think they all laid awake in the night wondering when justice would catch up with them.
Germany Deserves Credit
A court in Weiden, Germany, had issued a warrant on June 17, 2013, charging Breyer, a retired tool and die maker, with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder. Breyer has declared his innocence. The court will decide.
Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said he hoped there would be no obstacles to Breyer’s extradition and trial overseas.
“Germany deserves credit for doing this—for extending and expanding their efforts and, in a sense, making a final attempt to maximize the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators,” he said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.