A 95-year-old New York resident accused of being a former Nazi labor camp guard has been deported to Germany after months of effort from the U.S. government.
Jakiw Palij, who reportedly worked at the Trawniki labor camp in German-occupied Poland, was initially investigated, denaturalized and ordered deported in 2004.
Palij, however, has remained in the U.S. after refusal from other countries to take him in.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Palij was directly involved in “Operation Reinhard,” a plan to murder two million Jews living in Poland.
A statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice states that Palij played an “instrumental role in ensuring” the death of thousands of Jewish individuals.
“On Nov. 3, 1943, some 6,000 Jewish men, women and children incarcerated at Trawniki were shot to death in one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust,” the statement reads. “By helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners during his service at Trawniki, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they later met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis.”
Palij immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, telling officials at the time that he merely worked on a farm and in a factory during the war, before finally becoming a U.S. citizen in 1957.
The Associated Press reports that Palij admitted to the fabrication decades later, telling investigators that “everybody lied” on their visas.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has praised the numerous agencies involved, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
“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 says.
Speaking with Fox News, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said the action would not have been possible had President Donald Trump not made the issue a priority.
“It’s really a credit to President Trump, who was very clear about this case, made clear he wanted this individual out of the United States,” Grenell said. “It’s a great day for the United States to have this man out of our country.”
Grenell added that the issue took months of negotiations given that Palij was not a German citizen.
“[Germany] had a moral obligation, not necessarily a legal one, because he worked in the name of the then-German government,” Grenell said.
Reuters notes that whether or not Grenell faces justice in Germany remains to be seen.
“Given his age and questions over his health and also a possible lack of proof, it is unclear whether German authorities will attempt to prosecute the stateless pensioner,” Reuters said.