By Bill Parry
A Brooklyn state assemblyman has launched a new advertising campaign to warn Jackson Heights residents that there is a former Nazi prison guard living among them.
Dov Hikind’s ads ask the question, “Would you be a Nazi’s neighbor?”
Hikind, son of Holocaust survivors, said his campaign was inspired by the case of Jakiw Palij, a former Nazi prison guard from Poland, who lives on 89th Street in Jackson Heights.
“It isn’t just about Palij,” Hikind said. “It’s about any Nazi war criminal still living here and breathing our air. It’s a moral issue and justice has been delayed for a very long time.”
Palij has been in the United States for 60 years. He was stripped of his American citizenship in 2003 for falsely claiming in the 1950s that he worked on a farm in Germany during World War II.
Immigration Court Judge Robert Owens found that Palij had worked as a guard at the Trawniki labor camp in Poland, where more than 6,000 Jews were exterminated over the course of two days in 1943. The massacre formed part of the SS’s Operation Harvest Festival during which 42,000 Jews were killed.
Federal prosecutors did not directly accuse Palij of participating in the massacre, but said his position as a guard made it possible.
“Anyone that worked in a concentration camp knows what happened there. We just want to get them out of the country,” Hikind said.
Owens ordered Palij deported to Ukraine, the modern-day home of Palij’s village, Paduak, formerly part of Poland. The U.S. Justice Department has tried to deport the retired draftsman for more than a decade but cannot find a country willing to accept him.
Asked Wednesday morning if he feared vigilantism inspired by Hikind’s campaign, the 91-year-old Palij said, “I don’t know anything about it. I’m old and I’m sick.”
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) supports the campaign, saying, “It’s important because his neighbors should know that this guy is living here. It’s shocking to know that he’s living in a neighborhood known for its tolerance.”
Dromm added that he has protested with Yeshiva students at the house in the past.
“They’ve always been very balanced protests, never any talk of vigilantism, so no, I don’t fear that in Jackson Heights,” Dromm said.
Hikind’s ads are appearing in Jewish newspapers and he wanted them in bus stops and subway stations to raise awareness.
“We’re still waiting to hear back from the Transit Authority,” he said.
The Simon Weisenthal Center estimates that of the 3,000 to 5,000 Nazi war criminals who came to the United States, about 10 percent are still alive.
“That’s an insult to decency and an affront to justice,” Hikind said. “Worst of all, it’s a vile slur to the innocent souls of the men, women and children that were murdered by the Nazis.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.