A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard has been deported to Germany from the US after years of diplomatic wrangling over his status.
Jakiw Palij, who lived in Queens, New York City, landed at Düsseldorf airport on Tuesday morning.
Palij is accused of having lied to gain entry to the US almost 70 years ago, claiming he was a Polish farmer. Almost 20 years ago the US authorities determined that he had been a member of the SS, the elite corps of the Nazi party, and had worked at the Trawniki concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The camp trained soldiers to round up Jews for extermination.
His US citizenship, which he had been granted in 1957, was revoked in 2003. In 2005 a judge ordered his expulsion.
But German authorities resisted taking him, saying the crimes he was alleged to have carried out took place on foreign soil. The US was unable to prosecute him for the same reason. Both Poland and Ukraine (where Trawniki is now located). refused to take Palij, claiming it was Germany’s responsibility.
For years American diplomats have been leaning on the German government, claiming it had a moral responsibility to accept him.
Meanwhile, Palij continued living in the two-storey, red-brick home in Queens, which he shared with his wife, Maria. His presence outraged the Jewish community; there were frequent protests over the years, including chants such as: “Your neighbour is a Nazi!”
Shari Brill, one of Palij’s neighbours, who had written to her political representatives to back his deportation, said: “When I think, he got to live this idyllic life in the middle of Jackson Heights, and he took away the opportunity of … Jewish people to do the same thing. I have many friends who lost relatives in the Holocaust. I had neighbours with tattoo numbers. To know that we’re finally rid of him, it’s good news.”
Neighbours described Palij as a quiet elderly man who did not stand out. Many only discovered his history from the protests and news coverage.
“I didn’t even realise he lived right here on my block,” said 33-year-old Adam DiFilippo. “I don’t care how old he is. What he did when he was my age, even a little bit younger, a little bit older, no matter what – his old age does not excuse his actions … whatever he gets now, he gets what he deserves.”
Palij told justice department investigators who came to his door in 1993: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.”
The precedent for the deportation of Palij was set by the case of John Demjanjuk, who was deported from his adopted home in the US in 2009. He was found guilty by a Munich court of taking part in the murders of 28,000 people in the Sobibór concentration camp in Poland. Demjanjuk died in Germany in 2012.
Whether Palij will face trial in Germany is uncertain, as prosecutors have repeatedly insisted there is not enough evidence to bring charges against him.
.@ABC EXCLUSIVE: The last Nazi collaborator deported — ABC News was there as ICE agents wheeled 95 year old Jakiw Palij from his New York home: https://t.co/OmHJYmyw5V@tarapalmeri reports. pic.twitter.com/2SDW3tzgvY
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 21, 2018
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 21st, 2018