By Bill Parry
Before losing a years-long battle with cancer in early September, state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) led the fight to have a Nazi-era prison guard, living in Jackson Heights, deported. That effort by Simanowitz is now gaining steam with the support of all 29 members of New York’s congressional delegation and both U.S. Senators from New York.
Jakiw Palij, 94, has lived on 89th Street for decades despite being stripped of his 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 murdered over the course of two days in 1943. Owens stripped him of his citizenship and ordered him to be deported to Ukraine, Germany or Poland.
The U.S. Justice Department tried to deport him for more than a decade, but could not find a country willing to accept him. Simanowitz led a rally outside Palij’s Jackson Heights home in June where he announced 85 colleagues in the state Legislature had signed on to a letter urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to finally deport Palij from the country.
“Jakiw Palij’s presence in Queens is an insult to the memories of millions of Holocaust victims, and those who continue to bear their pain to this day,” Simanowitz said. “The atrocities committed by Palij are unspeakable. To gift him the hard-fought freedoms of this country is intolerable. I stand with my colleagues in calling for his deportation and for justice to be served.”
U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, joined the fight. They both urged the U.S. State Department to immediately deport Palij. Schumer and Gillibrand sent a letter last week, along with the entire New York bipartisan delegation, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking that he pay personal attention to this issue, prioritize it and take decisive action to complete this already-ordered deportation.
“Removing Mr. Palij from American soil will send a message not only to the citizens of New York, but to the entire world,” the lawmakers wrote. “It will make clear that the United States does not condone hatred and will not shelter those who have committed atrocities against innocents. For Holocaust survivors, Mr. Palij’s deportation will confirm that the heinous crimes committed against them during the Nazi era will never be forgotten.”
The letter to Tillerson follows one sent in August by U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and every member of the New York Congressional delegation calling for action.
“Those who participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust have no place in our communities,” Crowley said. “The Nazis’ crimes were beyond heinous, and we have the responsibility to pursue justice on behalf of their victims.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr