Nazi camp guard deported to Germany from US

Deborah COLE
The US Department of Justice released a photo taken in 1957 of Jakiw Palij, who illegally concealed his Nazi past from US immigration agents

Germany on Tuesday took in a 95-year-old former guard at a Nazi labour camp where more than 6,000 people were killed, after he was stripped of his US citizenship.

The German foreign ministry said it had agreed to accept the former Ukraine national Jakiw Palij after his expulsion from the United States late Monday, citing Berlin's "moral duty" in light of the Nazis' crimes.

"The United States had repeatedly pressed for Germany to take in Palij," the ministry said.

Berlin had long resisted because he was not a German citizen.

"The US administration, senators, members of Congress and representatives of the Jewish community in the United States stress that people who served the rogue Nazi regime should not be able to live out their twilight years in peace in their country of choice, the United States."

Palij illegally concealed his Nazi past from US immigration agents when he moved to the United States in 1949, the Justice Department said. He became American in 1957.

The White House said in a statement that President Donald Trump had "prioritised" the removal of Palij "to protect the promise of freedom for Holocaust survivors and their families".

"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," it said.

- 'A single nightmarish day' -

German media reports said Palij arrived early Tuesday at Duesseldorf airport and was to be taken to an elder care home.

The daily Bild said that German prosecutors had opened a criminal investigation against Palij in 2015 but closed the case for lack of evidence.

Although Germany has put several aged former Nazi guards on trial in recent years for crimes committed during the Holocaust, the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said it was unlikely Palij would be prosecuted.

Washington had tried for decades to expel Palij, who had lived in Queens, New York since 1949.

In 2004, a US immigration judge ordered his deportation to Ukraine for working as an armed guard at the Trawniki forced-labour camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

A federal judge revoked Pajil's US citizenship in August 2003.

Palij admitted to federal officials in 2001 that he was trained at the Trawniki Training Camp in spring 1943, the Justice Department said.

In court documents, the US government said men who trained at Trawniki participated in implementing the Third Reich's plan to murder Jews in Poland, code-named "Operation Reinhard".

On November 3, 1943, more than 6,000 men, women and children imprisoned at Trawniki were shot to death in one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust.

"During a single nightmarish day in November 1943, all of the more than 6,000 prisoners of the Nazi camp that Jakiw Palij had guarded were systematically butchered," Eli Rosenbaum, then director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, said at the time.

"By helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis."