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Nazi prison guard who lived in New York for decades dies at 95

A US visa photo of Jakiw Palij, dated to 1949

A former Nazi labor camp guard who lived in the United States for decades after World War II has died in Germany, local officials said.

Jakiw Palij, a prison guard at Trawniki Labor Camp in German-occupied Poland during the war, died on Wednesday aged 95.

Born in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine, Palij moved to the US in 1949 and spent decades living in Queens, New York City, before finally being deported to Germany in August 2018 after years of diplomatic wrangling.

He became a US citizen in 1957, having lied to immigration officials about his role in World War II. Palij claimed he worked on a farm and in a factory, the White House said in a statement after his deportation.

In 2001, he admitted to US Department of Justice officials that he had in fact worked at the Trawniki Labor Camp. In November 1943, around 6,000 Jewish prisoners were shot to death there in one of the single largest massacres of the Holocaust, according to the White House statement.

“It would have been upsetting to many Americans if he had died in the U.S in what many viewed as a comfortable escape,” Richard Grenell, the United States Ambassador to Germany, said on Twitter after news of Palij’s death emerged.

Palij’s presence in the diverse Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens had become a source of tension for locals, and the Justice Department had worked to have him removed from the US for over a decade.

His was the last remaining active case from the Nazi era pursued by the Justice Department’s Office of Human Rights and Special Prosecutions, and the department’s best-known Nazi-hunter, Eli Rosenbaum, had lobbied for his deportation.

Palij’s US citizenship was revoked in 2003 and a federal judge ordered his deportation the following year, but no European countries to which he could have been sent agreed to take him.

In 2018, Germany finally agreed to receive Palij.

The full extent of the atrocities committed at the Trawniki camp, where Palij worked, aren’t well known.

However, one document — submitted by a soldier who wanted to be issued a new rifle — referenced an operation that killed 4,000 people, most of whom were Jews, illustrating the scale of violence which occurred there.