A 95-year-old former Nazi labor camp guard who was deported to Germany half a year ago after a years-long deportation fight with the U.S. is dead, local German officials confirmed on Friday.
Jakiw Palij died on Wednesday, according to officials in the Warendorf regional government. He had taken up residence in a care home in the town of Ahlen after Germany acceded to U.S. wishes to allow him to take up residence in Germany.
At the time of Palij's deportation, he was neither a German citizen nor under investigation in Germany. The U.S. had been seeking his removal since 2004.
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Palij was a former guard at the Trawniki forced labor camp in German-occupied Poland and lived in the New York City borough of Queens for more than 50 years.
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U.S. President Donald Trump had personally lobbied for him to be sent to Germany.
Dov Hikind, a member of the New York State assembly, who lead the movement to deport Palij said in response to his death: “It just puts real closure on the entire thing. We were pursuing even putting him on trial. The world is a better place not having him in it."
The Democratic assemblyman, has been working to urge U.S. officials to deport Palij, since 2017 when he wrote a letter to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson along with New York's entire congressional delegation.
"It was one of the great moments of my life to have the opportunity to pursue someone like this, who was literally walking the streets of our community. He was as free as you and I," Hikind told Haaretz.
Legal proceedings against Palij in Germany were halted in 2016 due to a lack of evidence that he was an accessory to murder.
Born in what is today Ukraine, Palij emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and became a citizen in 1957 after concealing his Nazi service and lying to U.S. immigration officials, saying that he had spent World War II working on a farm and in a factory.
In August 2003, a New York court revoked Palij's U.S. citizenship because of his Nazi ties, setting the stage for the 2004 order for his deportation and leaving him stateless.
The court found that Palij had served in March 1944 in a unit that carried out numerous atrocities against Polish civilians and others.
Whether Palij was present in Trawniki for a massacre of 6,000 Jews in November 1943 is unproven, though the U.S. claims that he was. "We know he was there at the time," U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said in Berlin on Tuesday.
The Interior Ministry opted to take Palij after finding it was in their legal power to do so in order "to protect the political interests of Germany."
Requests from representatives of the Jewish communities and victims' associations, the U.S. government, senators and congressmen were apparently decisive in bringing about Germany's decision.
In August of 2018, Hiking praised Trump for deporting Palij. "I am thankful that I had an opportunity to play a role to highlight who this guy was and finally kick him out of this country. It is some measure of justice, that’s what it is," Hikind said.
"At the end of the day these are all monsters, these people who participated in the murder of our people. At least he knew people were pursuing him. He will not be missed,” Hikind said.