A 95-year-old man who was a Nazi labor camp guard but emigrated to the United States after World War II, and had been living in Queens for years, was deported back to Germany on Monday. Jakiw Palij was removed from his home in Jackson Heights—video shows him being wheeled down the sidewalk.
Palij was the last Nazi war criminal believed to be in the United States, and the government was trying to get him deported before he died here. Rabbi Zev Friedman told the Washington Post last year, "Victims of the Holocaust, the people living in Queens, families of veterans, I think for all of us, it is really painful and sad that... someone who stands in direct opposition to every value we have here in America of tolerance and risking lives against evil, can live here for so many years, hiding in plain sight. It goes against everything that we believe in."
According to the Justice Department:
Palij, 95, was born in a part of Poland that is situated in present-day Ukraine, immigrated to the United States in 1949 and became a U.S. citizen in 1957. He concealed his Nazi service by telling U.S. immigration officials that he had spent the war years working until 1944 on his father’s farm in his hometown, which was previously a part of Poland and is now in Ukraine, and then in a German factory.
As Palij admitted to Justice Department officials in 2001, he was trained at the SS Training Camp in Trawniki, in Nazi-occupied Poland, in the spring of 1943. Documents subsequently filed in court by the Justice Department showed that men who trained at Trawniki participated in implementing the Third Reich’s plan to murder Jews in Poland, code-named “Operation Reinhard.” On Nov. 3, 1943, some 6,000 Jewish men, women and children incarcerated at Trawniki were shot to death in one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust. By helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners during his service at Trawniki, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they later met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis.
On May 9, 2002, the Criminal Division’s then-Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York filed a four-count complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, to revoke Palij’s citizenship. The complaint was based primarily upon his wartime activities as an armed guard of Jewish prisoners at Trawniki, who were confined there under inhumane conditions. Palij’s U.S. citizenship was revoked in August 2003 by a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York based on his wartime activities and postwar immigration fraud. In November 2003, the government placed Palij in immigration removal proceedings.
Still, it took 14 years to coordinate his departure. In 2013, Palij claimed to the NY Post that he was forced to work for the Nazis and was never given a Nazi uniform, "I am not SS. I have nothing to do with SS."
He also said at the time that he would enter his home through an alley because of protests outside.
"I’m glad this man is finally being sent back. He’s a war criminal and did not deserve to live in the US," Senator Chuck Schumer said today. "He doesn’t deserve to die in the U.S., a place of freedom and equality where we respect each other’s differences."
For years, Germany, Poland, and the Ukraine had refused to accept Palij, but now, NBC News reports, "Germany's Foreign Office said its decision to accept Palij showed the country was accepting its 'moral responsibility.' Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German tabloid Bild that those who 'committed the worst crimes on behalf of Germans' would be held accountable." (Palij never actually held German citizenship.)