How gay ambassador Richard Grenell helped deport a concentration camp guard

Richard Grenell
Richard Grenell at a UN Security Council meeting Photo: Richard Grenell on Flickr (CC 2.0)

On Tuesday, the White House announced the deportation of 95-year-old who researchers say worked as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp.

Jakiw Palij came to the United States at the end of World War II, like others who were directly involved in the Holocaust. In 1957, he became a U.S. citizen, hiding his past as a Nazi guard.

In 2003, after investigators discovered he had covered up his Nazi past, his citizenship was revoked. But the U.S. government over several administrations struggled to find a country that would accept him and put him on trial for his alleged crimes against humanity.

The Trump administration, which made the deportation a priority, called German’s decision to take him a moral victory.

“I have a lot of Jewish friends who said to me about this man living in Queens — I grew up in Queens,” Donald Trump said on Fox & Friends. “And he was a man that — not just a prison guard. He was a prison guard that supervised the killing of many, many Jews. Many, many Jews. And he’s lived here for decades.”

Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and an openly gay man, said that even though the U.S. knew about Palij since the Bush Administration, he pressed the issue of deportation at multiple meetings with German officials.

“The president asked me to do this… they could tell we were making it a priority,” he told the Washington Post.

Part of the reason previous administrations had trouble deporting Palij to Germany is that he is not a German citizen. There’s no evidence that he was in Germany more than once in his life.

But Grenell said that he convinced the German government that it had a “moral obligation” to take Palij, even though it didn’t have a “legal obligation.”

Palij was born in a place that is currently part of Ukraine but that was part of Poland at the time. He allegedly worked as a guard at a labor camp in Trawniki, Poland, where U.S. officials say that he participated in the murder of 6,000 Jews.

But it is unlikely that he will face charges in Germany.

“His transfer from the USA doesn’t change anything about the state of evidence,” said Jens Rommel, who heads the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

Rommel told Deutsche Welle that there is currently no investigation into Palij.

“In theory, prosecutors in Würzburg could resume their proceedings in case something changed, but for that proof would be necessary in particular, which would bring the person into direct connection with the crimes, and that is what has been missing so far,” Rommel added.

Palij has suffered two strokes in the past few years, and reporters said that he was directly put in an ambulance when he got out of the plane in Dusseldorf and taken to a nursing home.

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