By Mark Hallum
Jakiw Palij, 95, was more than just another immigrant among millions in Queens.
Having served as a Nazi guard during the Holocaust, Palij moved to the United States, concealed his past and became not only a legal citizen, but a resident of Jackson Heights.
Now the geriatric war criminal, originally from Poland, has been deported to Germany after years of attempts by the federal government to have him removed, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He arrived at Dusseldorf Airport Tuesday.
“Today marks a solemn victory for the Queens community, who has for years demanded this justice for victims of the Holocaust and their families. Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America, and the presence of a former Nazi guard in the heart of our neighborhood violated our most cherished values of love, equality, and acceptance,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said. “This process dragged on for far too long, but today our Jewish neighbors, and all proud Americans, can rest assured that our nation took a stand against hate.”
Palij moved to Jackson Heights in 2001 and avoided an earlier attempt at deportation by the Bush administration in 2004 after no country would accept the former Nazi, who is accused of aiding in the deaths of about 6,000 prisoners at the Trawniki labor camp during the Third Reich.
In 1943, about 6,000 men, women and children were shot to death at Trawniki in one of the biggest single massacres of the Holocaust and Palij is accused of playing “an indispensable role” in preventing the escape of victims during the event.
ICE was able to act on a order of removal obtained by the Department of Justice in 2004 after Germany recently accepted Palij.
“The United States will never be a safe haven for those who have participated in atrocities, war crimes, and human rights abuses,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “Jakiw Palij lied about his Nazi past to immigrate to this country and then fraudulently become an American citizen. He had no right to citizenship or to even be in this country. Today, the Justice Department – led by Eli Rosenbaum and our fabulous team in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, formerly the Office of Special Investigations – successfully helped remove him from the United States, as we have done with 67 other Nazis in the past.”
Rosenbaum is a revered Nazi hunter.
According to ICE, Palij was an armed guard at the Trawniki forced-labor camp populated mostly by Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland during the war and came to the United States in 1949, becoming a citizen in 1957.
The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office and the Office of Special Investigations launched an investigation in 2002 before filing a four-count complaint against Palij which resulted in his citizenship being removed for both his war record and immigration fraud.
“Nazi war criminals and human rights violators have no safe haven on our shores,” Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said. “We will relentlessly pursue them, wherever they may be found, and bring them to justice. The arrest and removal of Jakiw Palij to Germany is a testament to the dedication and commitment of the men and women of ICE, who faithfully enforce our immigration laws to protect the American people.”
According to ICE, Palij is the 68th Nazi to be removed from the United States since the Nazi regime was toppled in 1945.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall