The Trump administration recently succeeded in deporting former Nazi guard Jakiw Palij, after fourteen years of unsuccessful attempts. There’s no doubt about it, deporting Nazis makes for a good image, especially for an administration whose President has been called “literally Hitler” by detractors on a semi-regular basis.
95-year-old Palij, a former Polish SS labor camp guard, was transported from his Queens apartment to a retirement home in Germany, although German authorities have indicated that he is unlikely to face prosecution.Jakiw Palij
While a remnant of Hitler’s Third Reich may seem out of place and even shocking in America today – Palij’s presence in New York regularly protested – the truth is that Americans should not be surprised to find Nazis in their midst. The U.S. government has historically not only welcomed certain useful members of Hitler’s regime, but actively recruited them for senior positions.
The Last Nazi
Some have called Palij’s deportation the end of an era. He was the last known Nazi to be living in the United States and the last active case being pursued by the Justice Department.
New York state officials had been pushing the federal government to get rid of him for years, including State assemblyman Dov Hikind, who said, “It’s finally happened. This is the last Nazi. You can close the book on this chapter.”
Palij was the last person on the list for Eli Rosenbaum, career “Nazi hunter” for the Justice Department, who told CNN:
When we started this work way back in 1979, the United States had an abysmal record in these cases. It had been known, literally for decades, that Nazi criminals came to the United States. The U.S. government had prosecuted hardly any of them. But we have been more successful in the last three decades than any other country on the face of the Earth, in pursuing justice on behalf of the victims of Nazi crimes.
To say that the U.S. government had previously failed to prosecute Nazis is putting it mildly; from 1945, it recruited Nazi professionals (and their families) to live and work in the U.S.A.
Operation PaperclipWernher Von Braun with JFK
When man stepped foot on the moon in 1969, it was hailed as a victory for America and a symbol of U.S. superpower status. Except that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would never have made it to the moon without the help of Nazi scientists.
Around 1,600 Nazi scientists and engineers were brought in to the U.S. as “intellectual reparations” to help advance American interests, particularly in aerospace, but also in physics, electronics, and biological sciences. The program was designed to import the brightest minds of Hitler’s Germany into the U.S.
Unfettered by ethical standards and boosted by wartime spending, the Nazi regime was progressing by leaps and bounds in science and engineering, despite ultimately losing the war. Both the West and the Soviet Union went on hunting missions to track down useful scientists to help in the next war effort, as relations between the former WWII allies turned cold.
Originating as Operation Overcast in 1945, the military program sought to recruit useful personnel, many of whom went on to achieve high-ranking positions, particularly at NASA. When the press began reporting on the secret operation, the name was changed to Operation Paperclip under the approval of President Truman.
Probably the most famous beneficiary of the project was Wernher Von Braun, a member of the Nazi party since 1937 and an SS member from 1940. Von Braun was, by all accounts, a brilliant engineer who helped develop the U.S. Army’s Jupiter ballistic missile and whose ideas on rocketry were key to the success of the Apollo missions. Even modern U.S. stealth bombers and cruise missiles owe their design to Operation Paperclip, as do various more prosaic technologies that have benefitted the American consumer. As the New York Post put it:
Meanwhile, Truman ordered the Department of Commerce to propagandize the advances made by the Nazis, ones that were now making Americans’ lives easier, more comfortable: Women could buy stockings that wouldn’t run, butter churned so fast and juice now sterilized so simply that there would be an abundance for all. Electrical equipment that had once been the size of crates was no bigger than your smallest finger.
Von Braun convinced 500 of his top scientists to surrender to the Americans and eventually became a highly senior NASA official, serving as director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center before heading up the agency’s strategic planning effort in Washington D.C., during the ‘70s. He was awarded the Goddard Astronautics Award (1961), the National Medal of Science (1975), and a place in the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Space Camp Hall of Fame (2007) among other prizes.
Operation Paperclip recruits weren’t exactly kept isolated and fed on bread and water, and Von Braun wasn’t the only Nazi recruit to obtain high status and prestigious honors.
To this day, the National Space Club continues to hand out the Dr. Kurt H. Debus Award, named after an Operation Paperclip engineer, Nazi and SS member who was appointed by Hitler to a senior position in Germany’s rocket program, later becoming “The Father of Kennedy Space Center.”
While it’s certainly possible that these scientists were press-ganged into working for the Nazis against their will, this could also be the case for rank and file guards like Palij, who claimed in court filings that he and other young Polish men were forced into working for the Nazis who had occupied their country.
These scientists may not have been directly responsible for the deaths of Jews or Hitler’s other victims, while equally, it is not proven that Palij personally killed anybody at the camp he guarded. But unluckily for Palij, he was but a lowly guard, with no scientific, military or intellectual value to the U.S. government.
Now that the last known Nazi living in the U.S. has finally been deported, it appears that such war criminals are no longer welcome in the U.S.A., unless they are useful to the government. In which case they may well be offered the American Dream.