A 95-year-old man named Jakiw Palij, who worked as a guard during the Second World War at a labor camp in occupied Poland that imprisoned 6,000 Jews who were later shot, was deported from the United States overnight.
Palij, the Justice Department said, had emigrated to the United States after the war and told immigration officials that he had worked on his father’s farm in what was then Poland and is now part of Ukraine. He later lived in Queens, New York.
More than 50 years later, and after becoming a citizen in 1957, Palij told the Justice Department that he had trained at the camp, and in 2002, the Department filed a complaint to revoke Palij’s citizenship because he had lied in his original application, winning the case in 2003. A year later, an immigration judge ordered his removal.
The Justice Department never found that he had participated directly in the killing of Jews held at Trawniki, an SS training camp, but instead that “by helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners during his service at Trawniki, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they later met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis.”
Palij has disputed his complicity in the later deaths of Jews held at Trawniki. He told the New York Times in 2003 that he was forced by occupying troops to serve as a guard at the camp. “We knew they would kill me and my family if I refused. I did it to save their lives, and I never even wore a Nazi uniform. They made us wear gray guards’ uniforms and had us guarding bridges and rivers,” he said in 2003.
A Justice Department official said at the time, however, that Palij was “very loyal and very capable and served until April 1945, the last weeks of the war, while other soldiers were deserting right and left,” and that, by working as a guard, he was “an essential component in the machinery of annihilation” at the camp.
For more than a decade, U.S. authorities were unable to find a country to deport him to. The White House was finally able to negotiate a deal with Germany in which they would accept him, even though he was not and is not a German citizen.
“The US administration, senators, Members of Congress, and representatives of the Jewish community in the US stress that persons who have served the [Nazi] rogue regime should not spend the twilight of their lives undisturbed in the country of their choice – the US,” the German foreign office told Bild.