A former guard at a Nazi concentration camp was deported to Germany overnight from the United States, where he had lived for decades.
Jakiw Palij, 95, had lived in Queens, New York. He served as a guard at the Trawniki concentration camp near Lublin, Poland, during World War II, and may face prosecution in Germany for his actions.
Members of New York’s congressional delegation last year urged the Trump administration to deport Palij, whose citizenship was revoked in 2003 based on his wartime activities, human rights abuses and immigration fraud, NBC reported. A federal court also ruled that he had assisted in the persecution of prisoners at the camp, though it stopped short of finding him responsible for deaths.
A statement released by the White House after Palij landed in Germany early Tuesday commended President Donald Trump and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for “removing this war criminal from United States soil.”
“Despite a court ordering his deportation in 2004, past administrations were unsuccessful in removing Palij,” the statement said. “To protect the promise of freedom for Holocaust survivors and their families, President Trump prioritized the removal of Palij.”
Palij was born on former Polish territory, an area now located in Ukraine. He immigrated to the United States in 1949 and became a citizen in 1957, but concealed his Nazi service saying that he spent World War II working in a factory on a farm.
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.”
He later admitted to officials that he attended a Nazi SS training camp in Trawniki in German-occupied Poland and then served as an armed guard at its adjacent forced-labor camp.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Trawniki camp was part of Operation Reinhard, the Nazi operation to murder the approximately 2 million Jews residing in German-occupied Poland.
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.
Germany’s Foreign Office said its decision to accept Palij showed the country was accepting its “moral responsibility.” And Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told th German tabloid Bild that those who “committed the worst crimes on behalf of Germans” would be held accountable.
A reporter from ABC News who was present when Pajil was removed by ICE on Monday morning described him as “looking frail with missing front teeth visible through his white beard. The only noise he made was a pained howl as agents hoisted him from his wheelchair onto the ambulance stretcher.”