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The ‘last Nazi in the US’ died stateless in a German nursing home

The US Department of Justice released a photo taken in 1957 of Jakiw Palij, who illegally concealed his Nazi past from US immigration agents
In August of last year, Palij was finally deported after years of effort when Germany agreed to take him in

Jakiw Palij, a former Nazi camp guard who was the source of years-long diplomatic tension between Germany and the US, died Thursday at the age of 95, stateless and without ever having to stand trial.

He was deported to Germany from the US only last August.

Palij served during WW2 as an armed guard in Trawniki, a concentration camp and SS training facility in eastern Poland, where in a single night on November 3, 1943 some 6,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot to death. This was one of the single biggest massacres of the Holocaust.

“By serving as an armed guard at the Trawniki labor camp and preventing the escape of Jewish prisoners during his Nazi service, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that the Trawniki Jewish victims met their horrific fate at the hands of the Nazis,” read the White House statement announcing his deportation.

In 1949, he immigrated to the US 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 and only in 2001 was his past revealed.

Palij’s American citizenship was revoked in 2003, but a push to deport him to Germany remained unsuccessful for many years, as Palij was never a German citizen. Palij thus continued to reside in Queens, New York, earning him the dubious title of ‘the last Nazi war criminal living in America.’

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Only in August of last year, reportedly due to the efforts of US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, Palij was deported after Germany agreed to take him in.

The former guard was left to quietly live out his days in a German retirement home, without ever having to face a judge, as prosecutors could not find enough cause to try him for murder or accessory to murder – the only two crimes for which the statute of limitations does not apply.

The public prosecutor's office in Würzburg, Bavaria, which opened an investigation into Palij in 2015, closed the case due to a lack of evidence.

“The mere membership in the SS or training in Trawniki are not punishable as such under German law,” noted Germany’s Chief Nazi hunter Jens Rommel, speaking of Palij’s case just months before his arrival in Germany.

In its statement, the White House noted that Palij’s deportation “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.”


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