MINNEAPOLIS – At least 10 suspected Nazi war criminals ordered deported by the United States never left the country, according to an Associated Press review of Justice Department data – and four are living in the United States today. All remained eligible for public benefits such as Social Security until they exhausted appeals, and in one case even beyond.
Quiet American legal limbo was the fate of all 10 men uncovered in the AP review. The reason: While the U.S. wanted them out, no other country was willing to take them in.
That’s the case of Vladas Zajanckauskas in Sutton, Mass. It’s the case of Theodor Szehinskyj in West Chester, Pa. Of Jakiw Palij in New York City. And of John Kalymon in Troy, Mich.
All have been in the same areas for years, stripped of citizenship and ordered deported, yet able to carry out their lives in familiar surroundings. Dozens of other Nazi war crimes suspects in the U.S. were also entitled to Social Security and other public benefits for years as they fought deportation.
The United States can deport people over evidence of involvement in Nazi war crimes but cannot put such people on trial because the alleged crimes did not take place on American soil. The responsibility to prosecute would lie with the countries where the crimes were committed or ordered – if the suspects ever end up there.
In the 34 years since the Justice Department created an office to find and deport Nazi suspects, the agency has initiated legal proceedings against 137 people. Less than half – at least 66 – have been removed by deportation, extradition or voluntary departure.
At least 20 died while their cases were pending. In at least 20 other cases, U.S. officials agreed not to pursue or enforce deportation orders, often because of poor health, according to a 2008 report by the Justice Department. In some cases, the U.S. government agreed not to file deportation proceedings in exchange for cooperation in other investigations, the report said.
But the key stumbling block has been the lack of political will by countries in Europe to accept those ordered to leave.
The four men still living in the U.S despite deportation orders have all exhausted appeals:
Zajanckauskas, 97, remains in Massachusetts 11 years after authorities first began the denaturalization process. He was ordered deported to his native Lithuania in 2007 and ran out of appeals in 2010 but remains in the U.S. because other countries, including Lithuania, won’t accept him, said Eli Rosenbaum, the longtime head of the Justice Department agency charged with investigating accused Nazi war criminals. Zajanckauskas took part in the brutal liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, according to Rosenbaum. Zajanckauskas has denied being in Warsaw at the time.
Szehinskyj, 89, remains in Pennsylvania nearly 14 years after the DOJ began a case against him. He was denaturalized and ordered deported to his native Ukraine, Poland or Germany, and exhausted all appeals in 2006. The Department of Justice has said no country has been willing to accept him. Authorities say Szehinskyj was an armed guard at Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland, a claim he has denied.
Palij, 89, remains in New York 11 years after the DOJ initiated a case against him and seven years after he exhausted appeals. Court records say Palij – born in a part of Poland that is now part of Ukraine – was an armed guard at an SS slave labor camp for Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland until at least the spring of 1943 and helped to keep prisoners from escaping. Palij has denied the accusations. The original order deporting Palij to Ukraine has been amended to allow deportation to Germany, Poland or any other country willing to accept him. Justice officials say none has been willing.
Kalymon, 92, is still in Michigan despite exhausting appeals this year in a process that took nine years. Prosecutors said Kalymon, who was born in Poland, was a member of the Nazi-sponsored Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in Lviv that rounded up Jews and imprisoned them. Prosecutors said Kalymon also shot Jews. He was ordered deported to Ukraine, Poland, Germany or any other country that would take him. His attorney, Elias Xenos, said his client was a teenage boy who was essentially guarding a sack of coal.
He said he is not aware of any country that has agreed to take Kalymon, who he said has Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
In Poland, prosecutor Grzegorz Malisiewicz said an investigation of Kalymon was closed in January because authorities couldn’t definitively tie him to crimes committed in 1942. In Germany, Munich prosecutors have been investigating Kalymon on suspicion of murder since 2010.
Germany has taken the position that people involved in Nazi crimes must be prosecuted, no matter how old or infirm, as it did in the case of retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk. He died last year at age 91 while appealing his conviction of being an accessory to 28,060 murders while a guard at the Sobibor death camp.
Before that case, Germany had been reluctant to prosecute Nazi war crimes suspects who weren’t German citizens, said Stephen Paskey, a former Justice Department attorney who worked on the Demjanjuk and Zajanckauskas cases.
Leading Holocaust experts express frustration at the failure to remove such men from the United States.
That they have been able to live out their lives enjoying the freedoms of this country, after depriving others of freedom and life itself, is an affront to the memory of those who perished, said Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.