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Douglaston man accused of being Nazi camp guard

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The U.S. Justice Department is seeking to revoke the citizenship of an elderly Douglaston man whom they contend was a guard in the elite Nazi SS police at a Polish training camp during World War II.

A civil complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn last Thursday against Jaroslaw Bilaniuk, 79, a Ukrainian immigrant who came to the United States in 1949 and obtained citizenship in 1957. He has lived in Douglaston for more than 30 years.

The Bilaniuk family, who live on 241st Street in Douglaston, issued a statement Friday evening saying the Justice Department was using Jaroslaw Bilaniuk, a husband and father, as an example. The family also claimed to have sheltered Jews from persecution during World War II.

“The Bilaniuk family states that he is innocent and he was not involved in any persecution of any people during World War II,” the family said in its statement.

“Unfortunat­ely, our husband and father is the victim of overzealous prosecutors working to justify their existence by superimposing the crimes of the Nazi regime on an innocent, law-abiding citizen,” the family said in its statement. “The first step of a smear campaign and vilification in the press is taking place now to arouse the emotions of the reader.”

According to the civil complaint filed by the Justice Department, Bilaniuk was recruited by the SS, which was the elite guard of the German Nazi Party, in 1943 and in February of that year was sent to Trawniki, a Polish training camp in the Lublin District of Nazi-occupied Poland.

In seeking to revoke Bilaniuk’s citizenship, the U.S. Justice Department set a record of 10 prosecutions this year against accused Nazis living in the United States, said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations.

It was also the second time this year the Justice Department has initiated such proceedings against a Queens man. In May, the Justice Department tried to revoke the citizenship of Jackson Heights resident Jakiw Palij, 78.

Rosenbaum said Palij and Bilaniuk served in the same unit, and the Justice Department has accused both men of following similar SS careers, including training and serving in Trawniki, joining a deployment company to round up suspected Polish partisans and being members of the SS Battalion Streibel’s First Company, a unit which guarded civilians who were forced into conscription.

In their statement the Bilaniuk family said “our family and relatives were also victims of the Nazi regime and sheltered Jews in Ukraine, risking the penalty of death.”

The federal government has alleged Jaroslaw Bilaniuk misrepresented himself as a businessman and farmer in Poland as well as Germany while trying to enter the United States in 1949

During World War II, more than 6 million Jews were killed in Europe between 1933 and 1945 by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and his extremist Nazi regime.

According to documents provided by the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Bayside’s Queensborough Community College, Lublin was also the location of a Nazi ghetto which housed 34,000 Jews before the ghetto was “liquidated” in 1942. The Nazis, according to the center’s documents, used ghettos to segregate and demoralize Jews before sending them to concentration camps.

The Trawniki Training Camp was used to train men in a secret Nazi project called Operation Reinhard, an effort to “dispossess, concentrate, exploit and physically exterminate Jews in Poland,” the complaint said. Some 1.7 million Jewish adults and children were murdered as a result of Operation Reinhard, the Justice Department said.

Bilaniuk allegedly served as an armed guard to watch the prisoners of the SS Labor Camp Trawniki and prevented prisoners from escaping, the Justice Department said.

After Bilaniuk’s alleged time in Trawniki, the Justice Department said he was part of the Lublin-based SS Deployment Company, a unit which rounded up Polish “suspects” who did not carry proper identification.

Eliot Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association, lives on the same street as the family but said he did not know Jaroslaw Bilaniuk personally.

“He appears to have a history of not getting along with his neighbors,” said Socci, who recounted conflicts over property lines between the Bilaniuks and their neighbors. “But it’s still an incredible leap to go from a neighbor who doesn’t get along with others to this situation.”

Another Douglaston resident, Lori Ritchie, said she has known the family for nearly 30 years and does not believe the allegations against Jaroslaw Bilaniuk.

“I’ve known him as a working man, a quiet man — I’m just so totally shocked that he was blamed for this crime,” Ritchie said. “He’s a gentle man. I could find no fault with them.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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