Leading U.S. government officials have paid tribute to a multi-departmental effort and strong cooperation with the German government that resulted in the deportation of a former Nazi concentration camp guard from the United States on Tuesday.
In an on-the-record call hosted by the White House on Tuesday, five officials offered further details of the renewed effort by the Trump administration to secure the deportation of Jakiw Palij — a Ukrainian-born armed guard at the notorious Trawnicki labor camp — 12 years after a U.S. court stripped him of American citizenship for his participation in Nazi-directed atrocities against Jews.
Germany, Poland and Ukraine refused to accept Palij, who is now 95, after the 2003 deportation was issued, allowing him to remain at his home in Queens, New York — until federal agents carried him out on a stretcher and placed him on board a plane to Germany early on Tuesday morning.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin, praised the German cabinet, formed only in March, for having seen “this as a moral obligation that they had, not so much a legal obligation.”
Grenell specifically thanked both Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, and interior minister, Horst Seehoffer, for their efforts. The two ministers had brought “a new and different energy to this issue,” the U.S. ambassador said.
Justice Department official Eli Rosenbaum, who has spent more than three decades pursuing Nazi fugitives from justice, meanwhile issued a reminder of the crimes against Jews in which Pawlij participated.
“On November 3, 1943, in a daylong killing spree of unfathomable ruthlessness and horror, an estimated 6,000 human beings of Jewish faith or descent — men and women and children — were systematically shot to death at the Trawniki forced labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland by German SS and police personnel,” Rosenbaum said.
Rosenbaum reflected: “Almost incredibly, today, nearly 75 years after that ghastly paroxysm of genocidal mass murder occurred, Jakiw Palij, a former SS guard who helped ensure that no Jews could escape from the Trawniki labor camp, and who concealed his Nazi past in order to maintain a coveted U.S. immigrant visa, has been deported back to the country from which he emigrated here in 1949.”
Rosenbaum remarked that the “initiatives taken this year by the White House and by Ambassador Richard Grenell, and the willingness of the current German government to accept Palij, were without doubt the decisive factors in achieving today’s long-hoped for — very long-hoped for — and certainly historic result.”
The U.S. government’s special envoy dealing with Holocaust-related concerns spoke of his hope “that the removal of this ex-Nazi guard at the notorious Trawniki slave labor camp will bring some degree of comfort to Holocaust survivors and their families, and many others who suffered at the hands of those like Palij, who did the dirty work of the murderous Nazi regime.”
Special Envoy Tom Yadzgerdi said, “As the attorney general said this morning, and I quote, ‘The United States will never be a safe haven for those who have participated in atrocities, war crimes, and human rights abuses.’”