White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lauded her boss President Trump as well as the embattled ICE agency on Tuesday for the removal of a former Nazi guard who served at a prison where thousands were slaughtered.
She issued her tweet hours after news broke on the deportation of Jakiw Palij, 95, from New York to Germany. President Trump held an even Monday afternoon hailing ICE where he hailed its officers for busting traffickers of illegal immigrants.
‘For many years a Nazi forced labor camp guard had been living in NY – a terrible injustice. Past Administrations failed to deport him. Today, @realDonaldTrump got the job done! ICE has removed this despicable Nazi from our great country,’ Sanders wrote, using the handle of Trump’s personal Twitter account with millions of followers.
Jakiw Palij was taken from his New York home and spirited on Tuesday morning to Germany
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handled the enforcement aspect of the case, is the only agency she mentioned by name.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lauded her boss President Trump and mentioned ICE in a tweet about the deportation of the former Nazi SS guard
Her tweet came as a press call organized by the White House involved revealed the successful deportation had numerous parents – from Justice Department officials who doggedly search for Nazis, New York high school students who protested, the new U.S. ambassador to Germany who pressed the issue, and new figures in the German government who agreed to accept a man who is not a German citizen.
Jakiw Palij was arrested and deported by US immigration authorities, the White House said
‘We’re very thankful for all our partners in Washington,’ said U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grinnel, who also noted a change of heart among new German cabinet officials.
‘They saw this as a moral obligation that they had not so much a legal obligation, the individual was not is not a German citizen,’ he said on a press call.
‘There just seemed to be a new energy with the new govt here in Germany and we’re very thankful for their help,’ he said.
A statement from Queens Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, who lost a primary against an opponent who supported abolishing ICE, touted local efforts on the issue.
‘Today marks a solemn victory for the Queens community, who has, for years, demanded this justice for victims of the Holocaust and their families. Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America, and the presence of a former Nazi guard in the heart of our neighborhood violated our most cherished values of love, equality, and acceptance,’ Crowley said.
“For years, I’ve been working with my fellow members of the New York Congressional Delegation to urge the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to deport this war criminal and I appreciate the German government’s willingness to accept his deportation,’ Crowley continued. ‘This process dragged on for far too long, but today, our Jewish neighbors, and all proud Americans, can rest assured that our nation took a stand against hate.”
The German government decided to take Palij despite its reservations amid a series of conflicts in the U.S. relationship, Politico reported. Palij is unlikely to ever face trial in Germany.
The praise for ICE’s role in the removal of a former Nazi SS prison guard came hours after President Donald Trump spoke at an event at the White House to salute U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents
US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said U.S. diplomats raised the issue ‘very regularly and as loudly as we could’ with German counterparts
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government relented, despite misgivings, amid tensions with Washington on a number of fronts
Justice Department official Eli Rosenbaum described the slaughter at the camp where Palij was a guard.
He described the November 3, 1943 ‘day-long killing spree of unfathomable ruthless and horror [where] an estimated 6,000 human beings of Jewish faith or descent, men, women and children were systematically shot to death.’
He said ‘every single jewish prisoner at the camp was slaughtered,’ and that parents were forced to listen to the murderous shots for hours.
Rosenbaum noted that a group of Long Island high school students and their teacher ‘never stopped crying out publicly for justice in this case,’ helping to keep attention focused on it.
Sanders followed up hours later with a tweet mentioning the ‘great work’ by Grennel. Grennel on Twitter lauded Trump’s ‘crucial’ leadership. He also retweeted the Republican Jewish Coalition, which in a statement proclaimed: ‘President Trump deports Nazi War Criminal.’ The statement also mentioned Grenell, but not ICE.
Trump, who was born in Queens, where Palij lived, took a personal interest in the case. ‘I don’t know how he learned of the case but it was very clear that he knew this individual as a Nazi guard and wanted him out of the United States,’ Grinnel said.
An ICE official on the call did not try to claim an outsized share of the credit.
She said the removal ‘required a whole of government approach,’ adding: ‘We are grateful for the cooperative spirit of our colleagues.’
Jakiw Palij, 95, was taken from his New York City home on a stretcher and spirited early on Tuesday morning to Germany, the White House said.
It came 25 years after investigators first confronted Palij about his past and he admitted lying to get into the US, claiming he spent the war as a farmer and factory worker.
Acting on a 2004 deportation order, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement took Palij into custody and sent him to Germany.
He did not respond to questions reporters were shouting at him as he was loaded up to go
He did not respond to questions reporters were shouting at him as he was loaded up on the stretcher.
Palij left on a plane from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and arrived in Dusseldorf on Tuesday, Bild reported.
He was set to be transported from there to an elderly care facility in Warendorf near Münster, according to the newspaper.
Given his age and questions over his health and also a possible lack of proof, it is unclear whether German authorities will attempt to prosecute the stateless pensioner.
Germany has a mixed record on convicting Nazi war criminals.
Critics say it let many high-ranking Nazis and SS members escaped justice only for their juniors, small cogs in the Nazi death machine, to be put on trial decades later.
But Germany’s Foreign Office said the deportation shows that those who served the Nazi regime will not find refuge in the US.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who on Monday visited the Auschwitz camp, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: ‘Germany, in whose name the worst injustice was perpetrated under the Nazis, is confronting its moral obligations.’
He added to Bild: ‘Meeting the horrors of the Nazi era today means fighting against anti-Semitism, discrimination and racism.
‘And it means standing by our moral obligation to the victims and future generations.
‘The guilt of those who committed the worst crimes in Germany’s name does not pass. She still hurts deeply.’
According to the Justice Department, Palij served at the Nazi SS Training Camp in Trawniki, in German-occupied Poland, in 1943.
Jakiw Palij (pictured in 2003), 95, who lived in New York, was arrested and deported by US immigration authorities, the White House said on Tuesday
Palij entered the US in 1949 under the Displaced Persons Act, a law meant to help refugees from post-war Europe. Pictured, his 1949 visa photo
On November 3 that year, 6,000 prisoners in the camps and tens of thousands of other prisoners held in occupied Poland were rounded up and slaughtered in one of the single largest massacres of the Holocaust.
Palij has admitted serving in Trawniki but denied any involvement in war crimes.
Palij was born in Poland and immigrated to the US in 1949, becoming a United States citizen eight years later, the White House statement said.
But he concealed his Nazi service when he immigrated, the statement said.
Palij lived quietly in the U.S. for years, as a draftsman and then as a retiree, until nearly three decades ago when investigators found his name on an old Nazi roster and a fellow former guard spilled the secret that he was ‘living somewhere in America.’
Palij told Justice Department investigators who showed up at his door in 1993: ‘I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.’
In 2001, Palij told Department of Justice officials that he had trained at Trawniki.
Palij (pictured in 1957) was born in Poland and immigrated to the US in 1949. He became a US citizen eight years later
A file photo shows the home, left, of former Nazi concentration camp guard Jakiw Palij, in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York
A federal judge stripped Palij’s citizenship in 2003 for ‘participation in acts against Jewish civilians’ while an armed guard at the Trawniki camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and was ordered deported a year later.
But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, red brick home in Queens he shared with his wife, Maria, now 86.
His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years that featured such chants as ‘your neighbor is a Nazi!’
Last September, all 29 members of New York’s congressional delegation signed a letter urging the State Department to follow through on his deportation and Ambassador Richard Grenell made it a priority after arriving in Germany earlier this year.
The deportation came after weeks of diplomatic negotiations, which the White House said President Donald Trump had supported.
‘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,’ the White House said.
This document, photographed July 16, 2018 at the National Archives at New York City, shows the Petition for Naturalization of Jakiw Palij
Germany’s Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office did not immediately have a comment on where Palij would be taken in Germany and what exactly would happen to him.
Prosecutors there have previously said it does not appear that there’s enough evidence to charge him with wartime crimes.
Palij’s deportation is the first for a Nazi war crimes suspect since Germany agreed in 2009 to take John Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio autoworker who was accused of serving as a Nazi guard.
He was convicted in 2011 of being an accessory to more than 28,000 killings and died 10 months later, at age 91, with his appeal pending.
Palij entered the US in 1949 under the Displaced Persons Act, a law meant to help refugees from post-war Europe.
He told immigration officials that he worked during the war in a woodshop and farm in Nazi-occupied Poland; at another farm in Germany; and finally in a German upholstery factory. Palij said he never served in the military.
Palij served as a guard at the Trawniki Labor Camp in German-occupied Poland. Pictured, Heinrich Himmler shaking hands with new guard recruits at the Trawniki camp in 1942
In reality, officials say, he played an essential role in the Nazi program to exterminate Jews in German-occupied Poland, as an armed guard at Trawniki.
According to a Justice Department complaint, Palij served in a unit that ‘committed atrocities against Polish civilians and others’ and then in the notorious SS Streibel Battalion, ‘a unit whose function was to round up and guard thousands of Polish civilian forced laborers.’
After the war, Palij maintained friendships with other Nazi guards who the government says came to the US under similar false pretenses.
Palij and his wife purchased their home near LaGuardia Airport in 1966 from a Polish Jewish couple who had survived the Holocaust and were not aware of his past.
The Justice Department’s special Nazi-hunting unit started piecing together Palij’s past after a fellow Trawniki guard identified him to Canadian authorities in 1989.
Investigators asked Russia and other countries for records on Palij beginning in 1990 and first confronted him in 1993.
It wasn’t until after a second interview in 2001 that he signed a document acknowledging he had been a guard at Trawniki and a member of the Streibel Battalion.
Palij suggested at one point during that interview that he was threatened with death if he refused to work as a guard, saying ‘if you don’t show up, boom-boom.’
Though the last Nazi suspect ordered deported, Palij is not the last in the US.
Since 2017, Poland has been seeking the extradition of Ukrainian-born Michael Karkoc, an ex-commander in an SS-led Nazi unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians during the war.
The 99-year-old who currently lives in Minneapolis was the subject of a series of 2013 reports by the AP that led Polish prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for him.
In addition to Karkoc, there are almost certainly others in the U.S. who have either not yet been identified or investigated by authorities.
The American public did not become fully aware until the 1970s that thousands of Nazi persecutors had gone to the US after the Second World War. Some estimates say 10,000 may have made the US their home after the war.
Since then, the Justice Department has initiated legal proceedings against 137 suspected Nazis, with about half, 67, being removed by deportation, extradition or voluntary departure.
Of the rest, 28 died while their cases were pending and nine were ordered deported but died in the US because no other country was willing to take them.