United States immigration officials have arrested and deported a former Nazi concentration camp guard who lived in New York, according to government officials.
Acting on a 2004 deportation order, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took Jakiw Palij, 95, into custody on Tuesday morning and sent him to Germany, the White House said in a statement.
Palij, who served as an armed guard at the Trawniki camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, was arrested at his home in Queens.
He emigrated to the US in 1949 and became a US citizen eight years later and worked as a draughtsman before retiring.
“Palij’s removal sends a strong message: 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,” the statement read.
Investigators first confronted Palij about his wartime activities 25 years ago after finding his name on an old Nazi roster and a fellow former guard revealing that he was “living somewhere in America.”
Palij admitted lying to get into the US, claiming that he spent the war as a farm and factory worker.
According to AFP news agency, Palij confessed when investigators arrived at his door in 1993, saying: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.”
In 2003, a federal judge revoked Palij’s US citizenship for “participation in acts against Jewish civilians”. He was ordered deported in 2004 and his appeal was rejected the following year.
Several countries, including Germany, Poland and Ukraine, refused to take Palij so he continued living at home with his wife, Maria, 86, where his presence attracted protests and outraged the local Jewish community.
Last September, all 29 members of New York’s congressional delegation signed a letter urging the State Department to carry out the deportation, which eventually came after weeks of diplomatic negotiations.
It is not clear what will happen to Palij once he arrives in Germany. Prosecutors there have previously said that there does not appear to be enough evidence to charge him with wartime crimes.
|Palij’s ongoing presence in his Queens home drew protests from the local Jewish community [Mike Segar/Reuters]
Palij was born in 1923 in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine.
He told US Department of Justice officials that he trained at the Nazi SS Training Camp in Trawniki in 1943, before becoming a guard at the adjacent forced-labour camp.
It was the site of one of the largest single massacres of the holocaust, when 6,000 Jewish men, women and children were shot dead on November 3 1943, during Palij’s time at the camp.
“By serving as an armed guard at the Trawniki Labor Camp and preventing the escape of Jewish prisoners during his Nazi service, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that the Trawniki Jewish victims met their horrific fate at the hands of the Nazis,” the White House statement read.
Palij has admitted serving at Trawniki but denied any involvement in war crimes.
His deportation is the first for a Nazi war crimes suspect in the US since 2009 when Germany agreed to take John Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker living in Ohio, who was accused of serving as a Nazi guard.
In 2011, he was convicted of being an accessory to more than 28,000 killings and died 10 months later with his appeal pending.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the majority of officials who ran Trawniki did not survive the war, but a number have faced prosecution in Germany and the Soviet Union.
The US has “initiated successful denaturalisation proceedings” against 16 former Trawniki guards, according to the museum.