Nazi Camp Guard Jakiw Palij Deported to Germany, White House Says

Jakiw Palij
Students from Rambam Mesivta–Maimonides High School protest outside the home of Jakiw Palij in Queens, New York, on April 24, 2017. President Donald Trump’s administration has ordered the former Nazi labor camp guard to be deported to Germany, 15 years after officials unmasked him as a possible collaborator. Mike Segar/Reuters

President Donald Trump's administration has ordered that a former Nazi labor camp guard be deported to Germany, 15 years after officials unmasked him as a possible collaborator and called on Berlin to take him in.

Jakiw Palij, 95, who had lived in Queens, New York, was deported early Tuesday morning. He emigrated to the U.S. from Poland as a war refugee in 1949. In reality his status was murkier than that, as investigators concluded in 2003 that he had worked for the Nazi regime as a guard, supposedly at the infamous Treblinka death camp. The U.S. had stripped him of his citizenship, but complications around prosecuting him under German law had kept his case in limbo.

"To protect the promise of freedom for Holocaust survivors and their families, President Trump prioritized the removal of Palij," the White House said in a statement early on Tuesday morning, according to ABC. "Through extensive negotiations, President Trump and his team secured Palij's deportation to Germany and advanced the United States' collaborative efforts with a key European ally."

Palij faces accusations of collaborating with the Nazis after the occupation of Poland, working at Treblinka—a camp where the regime killed around 6,000 Jews—and the nearby Trawinki training camps for troops overseeing the executions. What charges Palij will face, however, is unclear as he denies being a collaborator. He has attempted to play down his role in the war crimes, claiming he enlisted under duress.

''They came and took me when I was 18,'' he told The New York Times in 2003. ''We knew they would kill me and my family if I refused. I did it to save their lives, and I never even wore a Nazi uniform. They made us wear gray guards uniforms and had us guarding bridges and rivers.''

German authorities have been reluctant to take in the 95-year-old as they argue that based on existing evidence, they cannot say for certain that Palij was at the camp during the mass executions, public broadcaster Deutsche Welle has reported. The nature of his citizenship also complicates matters: During his conscription, he worked on behalf of the Nazi German regime, but Palij was born in what was then Poland and is now a part of western Ukraine.

Eli M. Rosenbaum, director of a special investigation unit for the Justice Department, has argued that even as a guard, Palij was ''an essential component in the machinery of annihilation'' at the death camps. ''He was very loyal and very capable and served until April 1945, the last weeks of the war, while other soldiers were deserting right and left,'' he added. The ex-guard also entered the U.S. and then obtained citizenship in 1957 under false pretenses, without disclosing his wartime allegiance and instead falsely claimed that during the fighting he was working elsewhere, in Germany.

Palij is the last living U.S. resident charged with Nazi collaboration during the war, after eight similar cases since 2005 failed to reach an extradition and conviction before the accused died, The Washington Post reported.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer praised the deportation of Palij, telling ABC that the U.S. was "no place for a war criminal."

"I'm glad this man is finally being sent back. He's a war criminal and did not deserve to live in the U.S. He doesn't deserve to die in the U.S., a place of freedom and equality where we respect each other's differences."