You may have heard of this story.
The last known Nazi collaborator living in the United States — a 95-year-old former camp guard who played an “indispensable role” in the murders of thousands of Jews — was deported to Germany from his New York City home early Tuesday morning, completing what the U.S. ambassador to Germany called a “difficult task.”
But I have yet to see a single news report that gives you the full account. For instance, they guy was 95 years old, yet there’s been an active hunt for Nazis for decades. Why did it take so long to find him?
Christopher A. Wray, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, announced that a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., today revoked the citizenship of a Queens resident on the basis of his service as an armed guard at an SS slave-labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and his concealment of that service when he immigrated to the United States. The denaturalization decision issued today by U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross cited admissions and other evidence proving that Jakiw Palij, 79, served during 1943 as an armed guard at the notorious Trawniki Labor Camp, which the court found was created “[t]o further the exploitation of Jewish labor.”“By guarding the prisoners held under inhumane conditions at Trawniki, Jakiw Palij prevented their escape and directly contributed to their eventual slaughter at the hands of the Nazis,” said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Some of the reason is due to Palij covering his tracks well, but if you do some mental math on his age you’ll realize he was stripped of US citizenship back in 2003. So why did it take 15 years to deport a Nazi war criminal?
Palij, an ethnic Ukrainian born in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, said on his 1957 naturalization petition that he had Ukrainian citizenship. When their investigators showed up at his door in 1993, he said: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.” […]
But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, red brick home in Queens he shared with his late wife, Maria. His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years that featured such chants as, “Your neighbor is a Nazi!”
The place he was born is now in a different country, and neither Poland nor Ukraine wanted Palij. There was no place to deport him to! And once they did deport him, why Germany?
The German government has acknowledged its moral responsibility to receive Palij, who could not be prosecuted in the US, and whom other countries such as Poland, where he was born, and Ukraine, where the place of his birth is now located, have refused to take in. […]
Palij has never possessed German citizenship. It has emerged that his current legal residency status in Germany is based on a clause of the residency law under which non-Germans can be transferred to Germany if “international law or urgent humanitarian reasons” requires it, or “to protect the political interests of Germany”.
The basic idea is that Germany was responsible for the rise of Nazis, ergo it should be responsible for cleaning up after them. They accepted Palij for humanitarian reasons, to heal old wounds. Though it’s kind of awkward to hold a trial for a frail 95-year-old person.
While authorities in the southern city of Würzburg had been trying to bring a case against Palij since 2016, Rommel said that investigation had been closed because no evidence was ever found linking Palij to any murders.
“His transfer from the USA doesn’t change anything about the state of evidence,” he added. “In theory, prosecutors in Würzburg could resume their proceedings in case something changed, but for that proof would be necessary in particular, which would bring the person into direct connection with the crimes, and that is what has been missing so far.”
Nobody, not even Palij himself denies he was part of the SS …
Palij admitted to officials that he was trained at an SS training camp in Trawniki, which was next to the labor camp, in the spring of 1943, according to court documents. But the documents didn’t say what he did after his training.
“There’s a big gap in the historical record,” Eli Rosenbaum, former director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, tells NPR. And Palij wasn’t talking: “Mr. Palij took the Fifth Amendment and would not cooperate in the search for truth in his case.”
… but beyond showing he was an employee of the Trawniki concentration camp at around the time a massacre occurred, there’s no evidence to close that gap. Palij claims he was coerced into the SS to save his family, which is a common defense of former Nazis, but there are circumstances where that did happen. It was enough to convince a US judge that he should be stripped of his citizenship and deported, but it’s not enough for German prosecutors to bring a case. Arguably, the move to Germany will be a step up for Palij; he used to live on his own in the US, relying on retirement funds he saved. Now:
“Palij will spend the rest of his life here,” an editorial in the left-leaning Taz read. “The Nazi collaborator will now be cared for, receive financial help, a roof, food, clothing, paid for by the state.”
Look, I’m quite firmly on the “Punch Nazis” side of things. But that doesn’t prevent me from also pointing out that very little justice has resulted from this deportation. It’s not something to crow about.
The president used Mr. Palij’s deportation, which came one day after he saluted an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and border agents at the White House, as an opportunity to praise the agency, implicitly challenging those who would denounce it. […]
A few hours later, the Republican National Committee sent out a news release noting that Mr. Palij had lived in the congressional district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among Democrats who has called for the abolition of ICE, is seeking a House seat. […]
At a campaign rally Tuesday night, Mr. Trump invoked Mr. Palij’s deportation during a screed against Democrats, who he said would throw open America’s borders and do away with ICE.
All those headlines about abused children being ripped from their families (almost 500 are still separated, despite a court order to reunite them nearly a month ago) have resulted in widespread calls to dissolve ICE and a movement to reform immigration procedure to make it more humane. Palij’s deportation is a cynical ploy to fight back: since no-one disagrees with deporting Nazis, it follows that his deportation is necessary and therefore both ICE and the current hard-line policy should remain in place.
Jakiw Palij’s deportation is a net plus to the world, but he was a not deported to promote justice; he was instead deported so he could become a political talking point for the Republican party. Like those children, he was not a human being in their eyes but an object to be exploited and abused.
Even when they do good, the Republican party cannot stop themselves from cruelty.