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Last Nazi war criminal living in NY will likely never stand trial

A Nazi SS-man inspects a group of Jewish workers living in the Warsaw Gehotto in April of 1942, an infamous wartime prison in Poland
ARCHIVE (CAF/AFP/File)
US authorities paid off dozens of immigrants who came after WW2, suspected of complicity in Nazi crime

Germany’s Nazi hunters rule out prosecuting the last war criminal living in the US.

Trade wars and Iranian sanctions are not the only things straining relations between Berlin and Washington. Germany is refusing to accept a former Nazi guard facing deportation from the US for lying about his past in the SS -- the reason being he was never a German citizen.

94-year-old Jakiw Palij, dubbed the Last Nazi war criminal living in America, was born in Poland. During WW2 he served as a guard in Trawniki, a consecration camp and SS training facility in eastern Poland.

“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,” said Eli M. Rosenbaum, Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, when the decision to deport Palij was made.

“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,” he added.

Palij immigrated to the US in 1949 as a war refugee, concealing his affiliation with the Nazis and telling immigration officials that he had spent the war years in a town in Germany and in his hometown, then a part of Poland and now in Ukraine. Eight years later he became a citizen.

That he had entered the country under false pretenses was revealed in the early 2000’s and led to the revocation of his American citizenship in 2003.

Since the loss of his citizenship, US authorities attempted to deport Palij “based on his participation in the persecution of Jewish civilians” to Poland, Ukraine and Germany, to no avail; Palij still resides in Queens, New York.

Last August, 21 members of New York’s House delegation sent a letter to then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging him to deport Palij. In October, all 29 New York Congress members signed a similar letter. The pleas prompted the US embassy in Berlin to repeatedly raise the issue with their German counterparts, but in vain.

Another possibility would have been for Germany to request for the US to extradite Palij in order to stand trial for murder or accessory to murder – the only two crimes for which the statute of limitations does not apply – but this option was just ruled out by Germany’s Nazi hunters.

The public prosecutor's office in Würzburg, Bavaria, that opened an investigation into Palij in 2015, closed the case due to a lack of evidence. In addition, the examination by the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes is still defined as “preliminary,” with no real hope of progress.

“In our view, the evidence in the Palij case is not enough to substantiate the suspicion of murder or abetting murder,” Germany’s Chief Nazi hunter Jens Rommel told the daily Bild this week. “The mere membership in the SS or training in Trawniki are not punishable as such under German law.”

It previously came to light that the US authorities paid off dozens of immigrants who came after WW2 and were suspected of complicity in Nazi crimes, in exchange for their leaving the country "voluntarily."

In 2014, the Associated Press further revealed that the authorities used a legal loophole to transfer the funds in the guise of social security benefits, promising to continue the payments to those departed even after revocation of their American citizenship. In total, since 1979, at least 38 out of 66 suspected Nazi abettors that left the US continued to receive benefits, equaling total millions of taxpayer dollars.

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