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Basing his decision on an earlier proceeding that stripped Jakiw Palij of his citizenship, U.S. Immigration Court Judge Robert Owens in Manhattan found June 9 that Palij had worked as a guard at the Trawniki labor camp, where more than 6,000 Jews were exterminated over the course of two days in 1943. He also concluded that Palij later lied about his involvement on a visa application.
Owens ordered Palij deported to Ukraine, the modern-day home of Palij's village, Paduak, formerly part of Poland.
"The immigration judge's decision reaffirms the important principle that neither the passage of time nor the expanse of an ocean will prevent the United States from securing a measure of justice on behalf of the victims of the Nazi regime," said Christopher Wray, a prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington.
No one answered the door Tuesday at the carefully landscaped Jackson Heights row house where Palij and his wife live in a first-floor apartment. Palij is a retired draftsman.
A woman who answered the phone identifying herself as Palij's wife, Maria, said, "I'm not talking about anything. No comments please."
None of the neighbors on the block seemed to know Palij.
In an October 2001 sworn statement, Palij said he and other men from his hometown were forced by German soldiers to report to an SS training camp at Trawniki, according to court documents. While there, federal officials maintained, Palij guarded the neighboring Jewish labor camp.
On Nov. 3, 1943, Nazis executed more than 6,000 Jewish prisoners at Trawniki in a single day. The massacre formed part of the SS's Operation Harvest Festival during which 42,000 Jews were killed.
Federal prosecutors did not directly accuse Palij of participating in the massacre, but said his position as a guard made it possible.
"By helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they met their tragic fate at the hand of the Nazis," said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, which prosecuted the case.
When applying for a U.S. immigration visa in 1949, Palij - born in Paduak, Poland, now part of Ukraine -- maintained that he sat out the war, working on his father's farm from 1942 to 1944, on a German farm for two months over the summer of 1944 and then as a laborer at a German factory, according to court records.
After the war's end in Europe, Palij moved to Bamburg, Germany, and then on to a displaced persons' camp in Bayreuth, Germany, before moving to the United States, according to Immigration and Naturalization Records.
Palij immigrated to the United States in 1949 and obtained his citizenship eight years later, the Justice Department said.
After determining that Palij lied about his wartime activities on a 1949 visa application, Judge Allyne Ross in Brooklyn federal court stripped Palij of his citizenship in August 2003.
The decision to deport Palij, announced Monday by the Department of Justice, came about seven months after federal officials initiated removal proceedings against him.
Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney general's office for the Eastern District, which helped prosecute the case, said Palij is out pending an appeal. Palij has 30 days to file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Va., Nardoza said.
Bryan Sierra, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said it was too early to tell if Ukrainian authorities would accept Palij.
"If the Ukraine doesn't want him, we have to look for other options or he could not be deported," Sierra said. "That's something that we have to look at down the road."
Palij's lawyer, Ivar Berzins, declined to comment through a woman who answered the phone at his Babylon, N.Y. office. "He's not making any comment," she said. "I can assure you he's not going to change his mind."
To date, the Justice Department has had 75 people stripped of their citizenship as part of its ongoing effort to identify and deport participants in Nazi persecution. In total, 60 people have been expelled from the country.
"By concealing his service to the Nazis at a forced-labor camp, Jakiw Palij fraudulently obtained the privilege of U.S. citizenship," said U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf, whose Brooklyn office helped prosecute the August case against Palij. "We will spare no effort to revoke U.S. citizenship and deport those individuals who participated in the heinous events of the Holocaust."
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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