Germany’s foreign minister has said the country has a “moral obligation” to seek justice for victims of the Holocaust, after 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, Jakiw Palij was deported from the US.
Heiko Maas said “there is no line under historical responsibility”, adding in a comment to German newspaper Bild that doing justice to the memory of Nazi atrocities “means standing by our moral obligation to the victims and the subsequent generations”.
Palij landed in the western German city of Dusseldorf on Tuesday.
The local government in Warendorf county, near Munster, indicated that Palij would be taken to a care facility in the town of Ahlen.
German prosecutors have previously said it does not appear that there is enough evidence to charge Palij with wartime crimes.
Now that he is in Germany, Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said he hoped prosecutors would revisit the case.
Palij lived quietly in the US for years, as a draughtsman and then as a pensioner, until nearly three decades ago, when investigators found his name on an old Nazi roster and a fellow former guard spilled the secret that he was “living somewhere in America”.
Palij told Justice Department investigators who showed up at his door in 1993: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.”
A US judge stripped Palij of his citizenship in 2003 for “participation in acts against Jewish civilians” while an armed guard at the Trawniki camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and was ordered to be deported a year later.
But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-storey, red brick home in Queens he shared with his wife, Maria, now 86.
His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years.
According to the Justice Department, Palij served at Trawniki in 1943, the same year 6,000 prisoners in the camps and tens of thousands of other prisoners held in occupied Poland were rounded up and slaughtered.
Palij has admitted serving in Trawniki but denied any involvement in war crimes.
Last September, all 29 members of New York’s congressional delegation signed a letter urging the US State Department to follow through on his deportation.
The deportation came after weeks of diplomatic negotiations, which the White House said President Donald Trump had made a priority.
“Through extensive negotiations, President Trump and his team secured Palij’s deportation to Germany and advanced the United States’ collaborative efforts with a key European ally,” the White House said.