Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Authorities arrested and deported to Germany a man they believe is the last known Nazi collaborator in the United States, federal officials said Tuesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents removed Jakiw Palij, 95, from his home in New York City overnight Monday. Palij was an armed guard at a death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, and lied to U.S. officials about his role when he entered the United States after the war, Justice Department officials said.
"The United States will never be a safe haven for those who have participated in atrocities, war crimes, and human rights abuses," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "Palij lied about his Nazi past to immigrate to this country and then fraudulently become an American citizen. He had no right to citizenship or to even be in this country."
Sessions credited the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, formerly the Office of Special Investigations, for successfully helping remove Palij from the United States.
Eli Rosenbaum, director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy, said Palij "was the last person in the United States who was under prosecution," in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
"Our investigative work continues of suspected human rights violators."
Palij's deportation is "yet another message of deterrence to any one who would dare take part in human rights crimes that the passage of time, even decades, will never weaken our resolve to pursue justice on behalf of the crimes," he added.
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, on the same call, said the German government played a pivotal role in Palij's deportation 14 years after it was ordered by U.S. Immigration Judge Robert Owens, based on his role in Nazi war crimes as an armed guard.
Grenell said while previous German officials refused to accept Palij, newer members looked at the issues differently, especially Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Interior Minister Horse Seehofer.
Berlin officials understood it was a "moral obligation" to accept Palij because he "served in the name of the former German government."
Grenell said U.S. officials helped and President Donald Trump told him Palij's deportation was a priority.
Officials said Palij was born in what was then Poland and now Ukraine, emigrated to the United States in 1949 and became a U.S. citizen in 1957. He lied to immigration officials about human rights abuses, saying he'd spent the war working on a farm and in a factory.
In 2001, PaIij confessed that he trained in the spring of 1943 at a Nazi camp in Trawniki and court documents revealed the men who trained there participated in "Operation Reinhard" -- a code name for the Third Reich's plan to kill Jews in Poland.
Palij was an armed guard at Trawniki, in German-occupied Poland, which saw 6,000 Jewish children, women, and men who were shot to death on Nov. 3, 1943, in one of the single largest massacres of the Holocaust.
Owens had ordered his deportation to Ukraine, Poland or Germany, or any other country that would admit him, in 2004, on the basis of his participation in Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution and concealment of the facts. Though there's no evidence Palij harmed anyone, Owens noted the Jews massacred at Trawniki "spent at least half a year in camps guarded by Trawniki-trained men," including Palij.
In August 2003, a federal judge revoked Palij's U.S. citizenship, based on his wartime activities, human rights abuses and postwar immigration fraud. An appeal was denied in 2005.
"Despite a court ordering his deportation in 2004, past administrations were unsuccessful in removing Palij," the White House said Tuesday. "To protect the promise of freedom for Holocaust survivors and their families, President Trump prioritized the removal of Palij.
"Through extensive negotiations, President Trump and his team secured Palij's deportation to Germany and advanced the United States' collaborative efforts with a key European ally."
He remained in the United States and said in 2006 no country would accept him. At the time, he said he never harmed anyone at the Nazi camp.
"I was nowhere near to any camp," he said. "I didn't hurt any Jews, anybody from Ukraine, Poland. Anybody."
In 2011, protesters began demonstrating at his New York City-area home, and state lawmakers last year urged Trump to force Palij's deportation.