ICE deports 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard living in US
BERLIN (AP) -- The last Nazi war crimes suspect facing deportation from the U.S. was taken from his New York City home and spirited early Tuesday morning 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 World War II past and he admitted lying to get into the U.S., claiming he spent the war as a farmer and factory worker.
Palij lived quietly in the U.S. for years, as a draftsman and then as a retiree, 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's 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 deported a year later.
But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, 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 that featured such chants as "your neighbor is a Nazi!"
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.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador who arrived in Germany earlier this year, said President Donald Trump — who is from New York — instructed him to make it a priority. He said the new German government, which took office in March, brought "new energy" to the matter.
The deportation came after weeks of diplomatic negotiations.
Grenell told reporters that there were "difficult conversations" because Palij is not a German citizen and was stateless after losing his U.S. citizenship, but "the moral obligation" of taking in "someone who served in the name of the German government was accepted."
ABC News video showed federal agents carrying Palij out of his Queens apartment on a stretcher sometime during the day Monday. The bearded, white-haired Palij, wrapped in a sheet, was carried down the brick stairway in front of his home and is later seen sitting up and talking to the agents.
Palij landed in the western German city of Duesseldorf on Tuesday. The local government in Warendorf county, near Muenster, indicated that Palij would be taken to a care facility in the town of Ahlen.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that "there is no line under historical responsibility," adding in comment to German daily Bild that doing justice to the memory of Nazi atrocities "means standing by our moral obligation to the victims and the subsequent generations."
German prosecutors have previously said it does not appear that there's enough evidence to charge Palij with wartime crimes.
Now that he is in Germany, Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he hoped prosecutors would revisit the case.
"Trawniki was a camp where people were trained to round up and murder the Jews in Poland, so there's certainly a basis for some sort of prosecution," he said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem, adding that the U.S. Department of Justice "deserves a lot of credit" for sticking with the case.
"The efforts invested by the United States in getting Palij deported are really noteworthy and I'm very happy to see that they finally met with success."
Palij's deportation is the first for a Nazi war crimes suspect since Germany agreed in 2009 to take John Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio autoworker 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, at age 91, with his appeal pending.
Palij, whose full name is pronounced Yah-keev PAH'-lee, entered the U.S. in 1949 under the Displaced Persons Act, a law meant to help refugees from post-war Europe.
He told immigration officials that he worked during the war in a woodshop and farm in Nazi-occupied Poland; at another farm in Germany; and finally in a German upholstery factory. Palij said he never served in the military.