By Bill Parry
Before losing his 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. The effort gained steam this year with the support of all 29 members of New York’s congressional delegation and both U.S. senators from New York.
Now the Trump administration has pledged to deport 94-year-old Jakiw Palij, a resident of 89th Street for decades, who worked as a prison guard at the Trawniki training camp, where Nazi troops were trained to carry out the extermination of Polish Jews during World War II. Thousand were murdered at Trawniki camp.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), who joined Simanowitz at annual protests outside of Palij’s home for years, received a letter from the U.S. Justice Department last week saying it is committed to pursuing every avenue to remove Palij from the United States.
“I have been reaching out to high-level members of the Trump administration,” Hikind, the son of Holocaust survivors, said. “The rights and freedoms we enjoy in America should not extend to those who facilitated the death of countless innocent people. Palij’s presence here mocks the memory of millions who perished. There is no question of his guilt. It is imperative that someone responsible for Nazi atrocities be held accountable for his crimes, regardless of age. I will never rest while a Nazi lives comfortable in our country.”
Palij came to the United States in 1953 claiming he was a farmer and war refugee, concealing his work as a Nazi guard, and was granted citizenship in 1957. After his past became known he was stripped of his citizenship and his deportation order was upheld by the courts in 2004 but the Justice Department was unable to find a country that would accept him.
Stephen E. Boyd, the U.S. assistant attorney general, wrote to Hikind, “The Department agrees fully that Palij should not live out his last days in the country. The department remains committed to ensuring that justice is done in this case and we will continue, in cooperation with our interagency partners, to pursuing every avenue for effectuating Palij’s removal.”
For Palij to be deported, the State Department has to enforce its authority.
“Jakiw Palij’s presence in the United States must end,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said. “We need Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to personally intervene to pressure countries to take him. I have actively called on Secretary Tillerson and the Trump administration to make this happen. The families of the six million Jews and other individuals murdered in the Holocaust deserve justice.”
Hikind contended it also mocks the U.S. servicemen who fought and died to defeat the evil Nazi regime.
“I’m confident that our president wants to do the right thing and has the means to do so,” he said. “It’s time for our president to show the world how murderous fiends should be regarded and disposed of. It’s time to take Jakiw Palij, this monster who is beneath contempt and unfit to breathe American air, and kick him the hell out of here once and for all.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr