An elderly man who committed war crimes in occupied Poland during the Second World War, 95-year-old Jakiw Palij, has finally been ordered to be shipped from America back to Germany, though the latter country at first wanted nothing to do with him.
Palij was born all those years ago in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine. As a guard at the Trawniki Labour Camp (a camp belonging to the SS,) Palij was, and is, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews.
His case has been under review since 2003 when a federal American judge pulled his citizenship, and the fight to deport him to Poland or Germany has been ongoing ever since.
This frail old man worked at the Trawniki Labour Camp from the time he was 18. The Polish Jews who were kept at the camp were slaughtered; 6,000 men, women and children lost their lives in what proved to be the worst execution of Jews to take place in a single day.
Palij has admitted to the American government that he did work there, but claimed he was only a guard of rivers and bridges.
His case began many years ago when he first lied to immigration officials to get into America.
He told officials, in 1949, that during the war he worked on a farm, and in a factory. In 1957, he was granted U.S. citizenship. But in 2001, he confessed to the government officials that he had in fact worked at Trawniki, and in 2003 federal judge, Robert Owens pulled his papers. He appealed the decision but lost in 2005. The fight to send him home has been going on ever since.
On August 21, 2018, American President Donald Trump tweeted: “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.” Ambassador Richard Grenell, of Berlin, lauded Trump, his team and the German government for bringing the case to fruition.
In a separate statement released by the White House, officials said: “Palij lied about his Nazi past to immigration to get into this country. I want to thank (everyone) for their hard work in removing this Nazi criminal from our country, by serving as an armed guard at the Trawniki Camp, he played an indispensable role in ensuring that the Trawniki Jewish victims met their horrific fate at the hands of the Nazis.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in a statement to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper and reprinted in the New York Times, said: “We accept the moral obligation of Germany, in whose name terrible injustices were committed under the Nazi regime.
His presence in Queens, New York, where he lived for decades, provoked demonstrations and outrage when the public caught wind of Palij’s dark history.
People first began looking into his past in 1993. By the time word got out, Palij was splitting his community’s opinions. Some said he was a harmless old man who is unwell. Others were entirely unsympathetic and believe deportation is what he deserved.
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Palij still denies any first-hand killing, telling the Times in 2003, “I know what they say,” referring to the protesters outside his home and those who wanted him gone. “But I wasn’t a collaborator.”