Jakiw Palij in 1949 visa photo
Jakiw Palij in 1949 visa photoReuters

Former Nazi labor camp guard Jakiw Palij, who was stripped of his US citizenship and deported to Germany in August, has died at the age of 95, the US ambassador in Berlin announced Thursday, according to AFP.

"Former Nazi prison guard Jakiw Palij has died in Germany," said the ambassador, Richard Grenell.

"Removing the former Nazi prison guard from the US was something multiple Presidents just talked about - but President Trump made it happen," he added.

Palij had been living in a retirement home in the northwestern German town of Ahlen at the time of his death, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported on its website.

Germany, citing its "moral duty", took Palij in after he was stripped of his US citizenship last summer.

Palij had concealed his Nazi past from immigration agents when he moved to the United States in 1949, the US Justice Department said. He became an American citizen in 1957.

Washington had tried for several years to expel Palij, who had lived in Queens, New York since 1949.

In October of 2017, the entire New York congressional delegation sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to deport Palij. In addition, Local Jewish students held a protest outside Palij’s home, demanding he be returned back to Europe.

Former New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind said upon learning of Palij’s death, "It's the closure survivors of the Holocaust needed. It also goes to show that our efforts in seeking justice were not in vain, and reinforces our commitment to ridding the world of any last vestige of Nazism regardless of where it may exist. He certainly did not deserve to die on blessed American soil, but rather in a country closer to where he committed his abhorrent crimes."

Palij admitted to US federal officials in 2001 that he was trained at the Trawniki forced-labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II in spring 1943.

In court documents, the US government said men who trained at Trawniki participated in implementing the Third Reich's plan to murder Jews in Poland, code-named "Operation Reinhard," the statement said.

On November 3, 1943, more than 6,000 men, women and children incarcerated at Trawniki were shot to death in one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust, the US Justice Department said.

By helping to prevent the escape of prisoners, Palij played "an indispensable role in ensuring that they met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis," Eli Rosenbaum, then director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, said at the time.

Palij denied the allegations.

Berlin had long refused to accept him as he did not have German nationality.

The last alleged Nazi war criminal deported by the US to Germany before Palij was John Demjanjuk, who served as a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland. He was deported in 2009.

After Demjanjuk was deported to Germany, he was tried on charges of assisting in the murder of 28,060 people at Sobibor. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2011, and died the following year.

Demjanjuk’s trial set off a German crackdown on Nazi war criminals. However, some of those convicted of Nazi-era war crimes never served their sentences as they passed away before being jailed.

One such convict, Reinhold Hanning, was found guilty of complicity in the mass murders at Auschwitz. However, Hanning died at the age of 95 in 2017, before he could serve his jail term.

In a similar case, Oskar Groening, known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, died in March before he could begin serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted for the crime of accessory to the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz.

Some trials have had to be stopped due to the health of the defendants.

In December of 2018, the trial of former Nazi concentration camp guard Johann Rehbogen collapsed due to questions about the 94-year-old defendant's health.

Rehbogen, a former SS guard at the Stutthof concentration camp, has been hospitalized for heart and kidney issues, causing several recent hearings at the Muenster state court to be canceled. Due to German legal regulations preventing overly long gaps in trials, the court had no choice but to end the proceedings.

A week later, a German court said it would not put on trial an unnamed former guard at the Nazis' Majdanek death camp who was charged with being an accessory to murder, saying the 97-year-old is too sick to face court proceedings.