ICE Removes Denaturalized Former SS Member

Wendy Barlow's picture

On August 21, 2018, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published a news release about the removal to Germany of Jakiw Palji, a former Nazi guard at the Trawniki Concentration Camp in Poland [PDF version].

Palji was born in 1923 in a portion of Poland that is now part of Ukraine. After World War II, he immigrated to the United States as a refugee in 1949, settling in Queens, New York. Eight years later, he became a U.S. citizen. However, in both his initial immigration to the United States and his naturalization, he omitted mention of his service in the German SS, instead stating that he had worked on his father's farm until 1944 before moving to work in a German factory for the duration of the War.

An article in the Daily Mail details how U.S. government investigators discovered Palji's Nazi past.1 Palji had lived in the United States for over four decades before Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators found his name on a Nazi roster. A former Nazi guard who had served with him informed DOJ investigators that Palji resided in the United States. Palij was first interviewed by investigators in 1993, when he stated that if he had not covered up his wartime service, he would not have been admitted to the United States. He stated that others had lied similarly, and the Daily Mail article notes that he had maintained relationships with other individuals who he served with during the war.

In 2001, Palji signed a form admitting to Department of Justice (DOJ) officials that he had been trained at an SS Training Camp in Trawniki, Poland, in 1943 when it was occupied by Germany. This admission formed the basis of denaturalization charges against Palji. Despite the admission, however, Paji denied that he had participated in any murders and insisted that he had been forced into service with the German SS.2 The DOJ moved to denaturalize him and submitted extensive evidence showing that men who were trained at Trawniki played a pivotal role in Nazi Germany's plans to murder Jews in Poland. Furthermore, on November 3, 1943, 6,000 Jewish prisoners at Trawniki were murdered in one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust. The DOJ took the position that, by serving as a guard at Trawniki and preventing Jews from escaping, Paji was culpable for the grievous crimes that took place.

In August 2003, Palji's citizenship was revoked in denaturalization proceedings by a Federal judge both for his wartime activities and for immigration fraud. Subsequent to denaturalization, Palji's status reverted to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence. The government placed Palji in immigration proceedings, and Immigration Judge Robert Owens ordered Palji deported. This decision was upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). However, Palji's removal was difficult to effectuate on account of the fact that the United States could not find a country to take him. Palji was born in a portion of Poland that is now part of Ukraine, and neither of those countries agreed to admit him, nor did Germany, the country with which he served during the War.

Over the past few months, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, engaged in negotiations with the German government, stating that President Donald Trump had “made it very clear” that this issue was to be made a high priority.3 Ambassador Grenell's efforts were successful, and Germany agreed to admit Palji, setting the stage for ICE to finally remove him thirteen years after his removal order became final.

The ICE news release notes that since its creation in 1979 the DOJ's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) has now won cases against 108 individuals who participated in Nazi crimes. At 95 years of age, Palji will likely be one of the last former Nazis to be punished for immigration fraud, although the Daily Mail notes that Poland is currently seeking the extradition of Michael Karkoc, a 99-year old who lives in Minneapolis, for war crimes committed as a member of the SS during World War II.4

Palji appears unlikely to be prosecuted in Germany.5 However, that does not diminish the importance of the work done by DOJ over several decades to uncover his wartime activities and the Trump Administration to ensure that he was finally removed from the United States. There can be no statute of limitations on the heinous war crimes committed by the Nazis in World War II, and a continuing commitment to ensuring that the perpetrators face consequences for their action will also serve as a warning to war criminals and other participants in and perpetrators of genocide in the future that they should not expect to be able to avoid punishment by lying about their criminal pasts.

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  1. Rahman, Khaleda. “New home for a Nazi guard: Elderly care centre in Germany where 95-year-old former concentration camp worker deported from US will live.” Daily Mail. Aug. 22, 2018. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6085771/Elderly-care-centre-Germany-95-year-old-former-Nazi-guard-live.html
  2. Kilgannon, Corey. “Accused Nazi Guard Speaks Out, Denying He Had Role in Artocities.” The New York Times. Nov. 21, 2003. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/21/nyregion/accused-nazi-guard-speaks-out-denying-he-had-role-in-atrocities.html
  3. Nelson, Steven. “US ambassador to Germany says Trump demanded Nazi guard's deportation.” The Washington Examiner. Aug. 21, 2018. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/white-house/us-ambassador-to-germany-says-trump-demanded-nazi-guards-deportation
  4. Rahman.
  5. Id.
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ICE Removes Denaturalized Former SS Member