The White House has announced that the U.S. has deported Jakiw Palij, who authorities believe to be the last known Nazi collaborator living in the country, to Germany in the early hours of Tuesday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers removed the 95-year-old from his home in Queens, New York, on Monday, according to ABC News. The news comes 14 years after the U.S. court ordered his deportation.
Justice Department officials say Polish-born Palij served as an armed guard at a death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and was reportedly complicit in some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust, according to a 2003 New York Times article. He reportedly later lied to U.S. immigration officers about his role in those crimes when he entered the country as a war refugee in 1949.
The frail-looking man with missing front teeth visible through his white beard didn’t answer any questions posed by reporters present at the time of his arrest, ABC News reported. The only noise he made was a pained howl as agents hoisted him from his wheelchair onto the ambulance stretcher.
“President Trump commends his Administration’s comprehensive actions, especially ICE’s actions, in removing this war criminal from US soil,” the White House press secretary said in a statement issued early Tuesday, as reported by the Jerusalem Post. “Palij had lied about being a Nazi and remained in the United States for decades. Palij’s removal sends a strong message: The United States will not tolerate those who facilitated Nazi crimes and other human rights violations, and they will not find a safe haven on American soil.”
Palij entered the U.S. through Boston, claiming he’d been a farm worker on his father’s land during the war and earned American citizenship. Federal investigators have said Palij worked at the notorious Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943, when about 6,000 Jews were killed and buried in pits, according to The New York Times report.
Palij lived a quiet life in the U.S. for nearly 40 years until an investigator from the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations showed up at his home in 2001 to question him about his wartime activities. After his interview with the official, Palij signed a statement acknowledging his involvement during the war but claimed he was forced into service and never took part in any killings.
In 2003, a federal judge stripped him of his American citizenship, setting up his deportation to Ukraine, Germany or Poland, which was court ordered in 2004. However, the three countries repeatedly refused to accept him.
The White House said that Germany agreed to accept Palij “through extensive negotiations,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
Protesters have regularly protested outside Palij’s house and the push for his deportation has garnered bipartisan support. All of the congressional member of the New York delegation wrote a letter to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last year urging him to deport Palij before he dies, according to the ABC News report.
It’s unclear whether Palij will face prosecution in Germany.
“I’m glad this man is finally being sent back. He’s a war criminal and did not deserve to live in the US. He doesn’t deserve to die in the U.S., a place of freedom and equality where we respect each other’s differences,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, as reported by ABC News.
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