Jakiw Palij, a former Nazi concentration camp guard who lived for decades in New York City and resisted deportation for 14 years, died Thursday in a retirement facility in Ahlen, Germany. He was 95.
German officials confirmed the death, according to a U.S. Embassy official. No cause was cited.
Before investigators traced him to the borough of Queens in 1993, Palij had lived for decades in anonymity, a Polish-born draftsman in one of the most diverse neighborhoods of a city famous for its immigrant communities. He had arrived in the United States in 1949 in his 20s, after receiving a visa meant for people left homeless by World War II, according to Peter Black, former chief historian for a Justice Department unit devoted to deporting former Nazis.
On his application, Palij claimed to have worked on his father’s farm and then as a factory worker in Germany during the war.
Palij told the truth on one account — he was born Aug. 16, 1923, in the village of Piadyki, then part of Poland and now Ukraine — but lied about his life during the war.
In reality, Palij had volunteered to serve in Hitler’s Schutzstaffel, or SS, in February 1943, according to records unearthed by the Justice Department. He went through training at the Trawniki labor camp in Poland, where the Nazis prepared for Operation Reinhard, the planned extermination of Poland’s 2 million Jews.
With two other Nazi soldiers who also immigrated to the United States, Palij served in the Streibel Battalion, guarding forced laborers who made uniforms and brushes, according to court documents. On Nov. 3, 1943, Nazis at the death camp executed an estimated 6,000 Jews in a single day, according to historian Christopher Browning’s book “Ordinary Men.” Browning called it “the largest killing operation against Jews in the entire war.”
Palij received U.S. citizenship in 1957 and, with his wife, bought a home in Queens from a Polish Jewish couple who had survived the Holocaust and were not aware of Palij’s past.
A decade after investigators identified Palij, a federal judge stripped him of his U.S. citizenship, based on the Justice Department’s findings that he had lied on his visa application and served as a Nazi guard in the concentration camp. A year later, a judge ordered him deported — but neither Poland nor Ukraine would agree to take him.
Germany also refused to accept Palij, who was never a German citizen.
In limbo in Queens, he denied participating in any killings and said the SS forced him into service. “I was never a collaborator,” he told The New York Times in 2003. He also dared the government to arrest him: “Let them come and get me.”
“What will they do? Shoot me? Put me in the electric chair?” he asked. “What country is going to take an 80-year-old man in poor health?”
The men who immigrated with Palij were also pursued by U.S. officials: One died in Queens in 2007 with a case pending against him; the other was stripped of his citizenship in 2001 and died in Florida nine years later.
After other former Nazis died or were deported, Palij became the last known Nazi war crimes suspect residing in the United States. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, for years, students and faculty members from Rambam Mesivta high school in Lawrence, New York, protested outside his house.
The Trump administration made his deportation a priority and in August announced that Germany would receive Palij. The same day, officials escorted him from his home, and he was flown to Münster, in northwestern Germany.
He had no children, and The Associated Press reported that his wife was deceased.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.