A man who authorities believe is the last known Nazi collaborator living in the U.S. has been arrested and deported to Germany.
Justice Department officials say Palij served as an armed guard at a death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and later lied to American immigration officials about his role in those atrocities when he entered the U.S. after the war.
ABC News was there when Palij was removed by wheelchair from his home on Monday, but he did not answer any questions. Looking frail with missing front teeth visible through his white beard, the only noise he made was a pained howl as agents hoisted him from his wheelchair onto the ambulance stretcher.
Representatives for Palij didn’t respond to ABC News request for comment.
The administration released a statement after Palij landed in Germany early Tuesday:
“President Trump commends his Administration’s comprehensive actions, especially ICE’s actions, in removing this war criminal from United States soil,” the statement read. “Despite a court ordering his deportation in 2004, past administrations were unsuccessful in removing Palij. To protect the promise of freedom for Holocaust survivors and their families, President Trump prioritized the removal of Palij. 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’s deportation has been a long time coming.
He’d been accused of working at the Treblinka death camp — including on an infamous day in November 1943 in which 6,000 prisoners were killed, according to the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum writes that SS police unit shot all 6,000 prisoners. An attachment of Jewish laborers was brought in to burn and bury the corpses. “After completing this dreadful work, the Jewish laborers were shot and their bodies burned,” the website reads.
After falsely telling authorities he spent the war at his hometown in Germany, Palij gained entry into the U.S. in 1949. He was eventually granted U.S. citizenship in 1957.
It wasn’t until 2003 that he was tracked down by federal authorities and exposed. A New York immigration judge revoked Palij’s U.S. citizenship and ordered him to be deported in 2005.
At the time, Palij denied that he was a collaborator, telling The New York Times, he was conscripted at 18 when the Nazis took over his farm.
“I know what they say, but I was never a collaborator,” Palij told the paper at the time.
The U.S. said in the statement about his deportation that he lied about not being involved.
“Palij had lied about being a Nazi and remained in the United States for decades,” the statement said. “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 Department of Justice also lauded the deportation in an early morning email.
“Jakiw Palij lied about his Nazi past to immigrate to this country and then fraudulently become an American citizen,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement. “He had no right to citizenship or to even be in this country. Today, the Justice Department — led by Eli Rosenbaum and our fabulous team in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, formerly the Office of Special Investigations — successfully helped remove him from the United States, as we have done with 67 other Nazis in the past.”
U.S. officials say his deportation had long been stymied by Germany’s reluctance to take him in.
According to a source familiar with the matter, Trump told U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to make Palij’s deportation his number one priority when he got to Berlin.
In May, U.S. diplomats acknowledged Grenell’s efforts.
It’s unclear if Palij will face prosecution in Germany, which had previously maintained that they were not in a position to accept him because he’s not a German citizen.
Palij, who is Ukranian-born, had been living in the Jackson Heights, Queens neighborhood for 13 years. Protesters have regularly gathered outside of Palij’s house and the push for his deportation has garnered bipartisan support. In 2017, every congressional member of the New York delegation wrote a letter to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to deport Palij before he dies.
The president made no mention of Palij’s deportation during an event Monday honoring ICE employees.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who was among those calling for Pal’s deportation told ABC News the U.S. is “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 US. He doesn’t deserve to die in the U.S., a place of freedom and equality where we respect each other’s differences.”