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Former Nazi Concentration Camp Guard Deported To Germany

Aug 21, 2018
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A former Nazi concentration camp guard was recently discovered living in New York City. He is now being deported from the United States. That's according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE. ICE says the 95-year-old's name is Jakiw Palij. And he's being sent to Germany. The White House commended the move this morning. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following this and joins us now in the studio. Sarah, what can you tell us about this man Jakiw Palij?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, he was born in what was then Poland and what's now Ukraine. And this is important because this was a long time ago, and he's a man not quite without a country but that no country has wanted to claim because of his involvement in Nazi concentration camps in World War II. He worked in 1943 at a German concentration camp in what was German-occupied Poland. Later that same year, thousands of Jewish people were shot to death in a mass execution at that camp. And this man is not accused of participating directly in that event, but he is accused of persecuting people at that camp, preventing them from escaping and, in so doing, being responsible in part for those deaths.

MARTIN: How did he wind up in New York City?

MCCAMMON: Well, he's been here for a very long time. He'd been living in Queens, came to the U.S. after the war in 1949 - illegally, the U.S. government says. They said he lied in order to come here, told immigration officials that he had worked in a factory and on a farm during the war, became a naturalized citizen in 1957 and then, as a result of investigations into Nazi war crimes, was denaturalized in 2003, ordered deported the next year. And that appeal was denied in 2005, but he remained in the country.

MARTIN: Right, so why? He was ordered to be deported after the U.S. government found out who he actually was, and then he stayed.

MCCAMMON: Well, it just comes down to the fact that these other countries didn't want to take him. Ambassador Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany, says this came to the president's attention somehow. President Trump made it a priority, made it very clear he wanted him out. And also, there had been pressure from people in New York. Members of the New York congressional delegation had called for his removal. Activists in New York had been calling for this for many years. Ambassador Grenell says he brought this up repeatedly with the new German government with his counterparts there and decided to make a moral case.

RICHARD GRENELL: They saw this as a moral obligation that they had, not so much a legal obligation. This individual was not - is not a German citizen. So the moral obligation because this individual served in the name of the former German government.

MCCAMMON: And so he is back in Germany, they say. He was taken out from his home in Queens on a stretcher. He's a very old man. Not clear exactly what happens to him legally at this point, but...

MARTIN: Right. Does he go through some kind of trial? Is he put in prison?

MCCAMMON: That's not entirely clear. He is a very old man. But officials say - from the U.S. government say this is part of the administration's effort to take immigration laws seriously, something they've been emphasizing much more broadly. And they're using this case, certainly, to highlight.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you so much, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.