The last Nazi war crimes suspect facing deportation from the US was taken from his home in New York City and deported on Tuesday to Germany, the White House said.
The deportation of the 95-year-old former concentration camp guard, Jakiw Palij, came 25 years after investigators first confronted him about his Second World War past and he admitted lying to get into the US, claiming he spent the war as a farmer and factory worker.
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 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 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.
Germany’s Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office did not comment on where Palij would be taken in Germany and what exactly would happen to him.
Prosecutors there have previously said it does not appear that there is enough evidence to charge him with wartime crimes.
Palij’s deportation is the first for a Nazi war crimes suspect since Germany agreed in 2009 to take John Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio carworker who was accused of serving as a Nazi guard.
He was convicted in 2011 of being an accessory to more than 28,000 killings and died 10 months later, aged 91, with his appeal pending.
US Congressmen John Moolenaar , Brian Babin and Steve King are currently visiting Poland with Holocaust education group, From The Depths Foundation, founded by British-Israeli activist, Jonny Daniels.
Speaking to Jewish News, Daniels welcomed the move, saying “whilst this decision comes late, it is a good and positive action, and we are grateful to the United States for bringing this evil man to receive punishment for his crimes.”
The three Congressmen, all Republican, part of a ‘From The Depths’ educational tour for Congressmen, met today with US based Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg. They spoke of having seen “the horrors of the German Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.. through the eyes of Mr. Mosberg, a Polish born, United States citizen and Holocaust survivor. Being here and seeing this evil, makes us even more grateful for the decision to deport this war criminal and move forward the process of justice.”
Edward Mosberg said: “This is a good thing that this man was brought to justice, as a Holocaust survivor who lost almost my entire family in the Holocaust, we can never forgive the German Nazis and those who collaborated with them, for only the dead can forgive them.”