Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York asked Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tuesday to deport a former concentration camp jailer deemed persona non grata over a decade ago.
The Democratic congressman outlined his request concerning longtime Queens resident Jakiw Palij, 92, in a letter sent to Mr. Tillerson, in the wake of addressing similar pleas last month to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
Palij immigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and was granted American citizenship eight years later, but was denaturalized in 2004 after the Justice Department learned he had served as an armed guard at a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
Despite being ordered deported at the time, however, Palij has continued to reside in Queens because no other countries have agreed to accept him.
“The United States has long acknowledged that Nazi crimes were beyond heinous, and I urge you to act quickly on this matter,” Mr. Crowley wrote to Mr. Tillerson on Tuesday, New York Daily News first reported.
“If action isn’t taken, it could mean that this individual may never face any form of justice,” he added.
Mr. Crowley sent nearly identical requests to the heads of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security last month on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day after yeshiva students protested outside Palij’s home in Jackson Heights, Queens.
“To ensure that justice is done, I strongly urge you to address this issue and move ahead with his deportation,” he wrote last month. “I also urge you to ensure that no known former Nazi supporters are receiving any Social Security benefits — as required by law.
“I strongly urge you to take action on this matter in conjunction with other government agencies and identify a country that will accept Mr. Palij,” Mr. Crowley wrote, adding the State Department could potentially accomplish as much with “a strong diplomatic push.”
Palij was trained at the Trawniki forced-labor camp before serving as an armed guard at the nearby Treblinka concentration camp in 1943, the Justice Department determined decades later.
“I know what they say, but I was never a collaborator,” Palij told The New York Times in 2003. “We knew they would kill me and my family if I refused. I did it to save their lives, and I never even wore a Nazi uniform. They made us wear gray guards’ uniforms and had us guarding bridges and rivers.”
According to the Justice Department, however, his involvement makes him complicit in one of the Holocaust’s greatest atrocities.
“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,” lead prosecutor Eli Rosenbaum said when Palij was first ordered deported. “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.”
Palij was born in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, according to the Justice Department, but has been rejected by both countries in addition to Germany as well.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
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