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August 22, 2018 by

Why Deporting an (Actual) Nazi Feels Hollow in the Age of Charlottesville

Under the heading of “better late than never!” the last known Nazi war criminal, the 95 year old Jakiw Palij, has been arrested at his Queens home by ICE and deported to Germany.  It’s justice done, yet in this summer of fear and anger, it feels hollow to focus on the past without looking at the present.

According to a press release from the State Department, Palij served as an armed guard at the Trawniki slave-labor camp for Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland during the second World War. He concealed his Nazi service when he immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1949. A federal court stripped Palij of his citizenship in 2003 and a U.S. immigration judge ordered him removed from the United States in 2004 based on his wartime activities and postwar immigration fraud. A careful reader will notice that that was 14 years ago. So, nu?

Well, it turns out no one wants to take in a documented Nazi. Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, so for the past 14 years, he continued living in limbo in Queens. Germany finally agreeing to take Palij was the product of intense negotiations, the White House statement said, because he had never been a German citizen. Germany’s Foreign Office said its decision to take Palij in showed the country was accepting its “moral responsibility.” 

Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, Chairman of the World Jewish Congress US, said in a statement, “Both Germany and the United States have taken a critical step toward allowing justice to be served. Jakiw Palij is a convicted criminal who stood guard as more than 6,000 Jews were brutally murdered…We thank the United States for urging  this deportation, and welcome Germany’s just decision to accept his extradition after so many years of inconclusiveness.”

But is Palij really “the last living Nazi,” as he’s been described by many news sources? Couldn’t one argue, maybe, that Charlottesville 2017, with its chants of “blood and soil,with synagogue attendees huddled in fear as white nationalists marched outside, seemed to indicate that a lot of modern-day would-be Nazis are alive and kicking?

This headline-grabbing case is an odd hybrid of new and old parameters of morality. Certainly, few of us would object to literal Nazis getting their just desserts—although some might view it cynically. (“Anyway good news, everyone, the scourge of Nazism has finally been defeated in America, thanks to the courageous effort by [checks notes] ICE to [checks again] arrest and deport a frail 95-year-old man,” David Klion tweeted about the arrest). 

It is strange and disorienting to live here in the upside down world where “truth isn’t truth,” as former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani said in an interview with Chuck Todd. Because a world in which we are so willing to make sure justice is served on a geriatric Nazi, but where our leaders call modern white supremacists “very fine people,” is confusing indeed. A world in which we profess to deplore the Nazism of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and yet support a “zero tolerance” policy toward immigration which deliberately and cruelly separates parents from children, seems odd. A world where the very detention and deportation authorities asking for pats on the back for arresting an aging Nazi in New York also arrested a loving immigrant father who was delivering pizza to the troops. a devoted mother of three small children in a pre-dawn raid, and detained an American citizen for years seems very odd indeed.

Yes, the Holocaust was a manifestation of pure evil on earth. But perhaps we need to look at ourselves in modern times a little harder, and take moral responsibility—without the benefit of hindsight.

Jordana Horn is a writer and contributing editor at Kveller.

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  • Bobby5000

    Silly post. A horrible Nazi who murdered people is belatedly deported. This administration has achieved the highest rate of Afro-American overall employment and teenage employment in the last 40 years. Remember liberals saying, jobs, we need jobs, jobs are the key, jobs determine everything, but it turns out they meant jobs are only important when we are talking about creation through governmental action. Comparing the administration to Nazis because they did not adequately condemn an apparently isolated incident of violence is strained.

    Trump has his problems and I’d love fair-minded, balanced assessment by media. I thought Bill Clinton was an outstanding president and conservatives haunted him for his personal peccadilloes.

    We should condemn the policy of separating children from parents. One way of effecting that is for critics of Trump to develop some credibility recognizing accomplishments and asking for change where needed, rather than adopting a biased position on every issue.

  • SundaramRamchandran

    I feel that in this case, the concerned govt has acted in an opportunistic and even somewhat heartless manner. What is the point of punishing a man who has already paid for his crimes in terms of humiliation / failure / rejection etc and that too at the end of his life ? The same govt didn’t hesitate to utilize the service of Top German Officials at the end of the war when it was expedient. This is similar in some respects to the treatment of Shah of Iran (and even Saddam Hussein) on his fall from grace.
    As they say, history is written by the victors. One should also take into account the factors that led to the Holocaust which were partially caused by the victorious allied govts of World War 1 which precipitated and collectively drove a community over the edge. In fact, we do not seem to learn from history (the current venezuelan Turkish Iranian crisis etc) and keep repeating it.

    Let us not forget the atrocities perpetrated by Colonial Govts. Can we condone the latter because they were perpetrated on other people (considered “inferior” ) while the holocaust was perpetrated on people who were “German” ? Could the difference in magnitude be due to the fact that the colonists , in large measure were successful in realizing their colonial objectives and hence could afford to be liberal while Germany , which was a late starter in the colonial race, was not.

    Also, let us not forget that very few people at the top of the Nazi echleons were the decision and policy makers. The rest were possibly just doing their jobs and slowly grew to identify with their jobs for lack of alternative opportunities.

    This is in no way, an attempt at overlooking or ignoring the atrocities suffered at the time of the holocaust. But now, more than 70 years later, we are still treating the symptoms and not the cause