A former Nazi labor camp guard who had been living in Queens was deported to Germany, more than a decade after his U.S. citizenship was revoked, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.
Jakiw Palij, now 95, concealed his Nazi service when he immigrated to the United States in 1949, claiming he was a farmer and factory worker during the war, the DOJ said. He was granted U.S. citizenship in 1957.
But years later, it was discovered that Palij trained and served at the Trawniki concentration camp, where 6,000 Jewish men, women and children were shot to death on Nov. 3, 1943, in one of the single largest massacres of the Holocaust, the DOJ said.
“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,” the DOJ news release said.
A federal judge revoked Palij’s U.S. citizenship in 2003 and he was ordered deported in 2004. His deportation was stalled for years because no other country would accept him, according to New York lawmakers who wrote a letter last October urging then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “personally step in to settle this long-standing injustice.”
After talks with top members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, Germany agreed to take him in.
The U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, said the deportation was the result of a concerted effort by President Donald Trump.
“He (Trump) told me directly to make it a priority, to get the Nazi out,” Grenell told reporters. “I felt very strongly that the German government had a moral obligation and they accepted that,” he added, making clear it was up to Germany to decide whether to prosecute him.
Myriam Carrol, a longtime Jackson Heights resident who lived about a block away from Pajil, expressed shock that he was only being deported now.
“What happened 15 years ago when everyone was coming to protest the guy?” Carrol asked, recalling how she walked by the crowds and thought it would spur action. “I thought something was going to happen but apparently not — until now.”
Carrol said she did not know Pajil but was aware of his past and called it “horrible,” marveling that he was living on the quiet tree-lined street “peacefully and happy.”
“They have to pay, you know, somehow, those who commit horrendous crimes,” she said of the deportation.
Palij arrived by military plane at Dusseldorf airport in western Germany and was taken to a home for the elderly in the area, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported.
With Allegra Hobbs and Reuters