As the vice president of Phoenix Air, an executive jet and air transport service, Randall H. Davis has ferried some unusual cargo around the world.
He’s brought weapon-grade nuclear material from Tripoli to Los Alamos. He’s carried live smallpox virus from Europe back to the U.S. He made a trip to Zagreb, Croatia, to pick up a planeload of Soviet-designed land mines.
This week he made yet another strange trip.
On Monday Davis and his crew flew from their Cartersville headquarters to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey where they picked up a 95-year-old former Nazi labor camp guard, to fly him back to Germany where he will live the rest of his days.
During the 1940s Jakiw Palij worked as a guard at the Trawniki Labor Camp in what was then German-occupied Poland. The camp was a slave-labor operation as well as a training facility for collaborators, most of them Ukrainian. Approximately 6,000 men, women and children, most of them Jews, were killed in a single day at Trawniki during a carefully-planned “final solution” procedure called Operation Harvest Festival.
When Palij made his way to the U.S. in 1949, he told immigration officials he worked on a farm and in a factory, never mentioning his role at Trawniki. The truth eventually caught up to him, and in 2003 his U.S. citizenship was revoked. He was ordered deported in 2004.
Despite that order, Palij continued to live in a red-brick home in Queens, N.Y., unwittingly sold to him by a Holocaust survivor. This month, under pressure from President Donald Trump, Germany agreed to take Palij. (Neither Poland nor the Ukraine would accept Palij, a Polish national whose birthplace is now part of the Ukraine.)
To carry Palij to Germany, the U.S. government sought out Phoenix Air. The Georgia-based company flew Palij in the same Gulfstream jet it had used to evacuate an American doctor and nurse who had become infected with the Ebola virus during humanitarian work in Liberia in 2014.
“He seemed like a very frail, little old man,” said Davis, who was surprised that Palij spoke no German, only Polish and some broken English. Davis’ flight crew included a co-pilot, a doctor, a nurse, and “a half-dozen security people and government people who were there to help make sure this person gets where he needs to go.”
Davis, 64, flew his charge first to Canada for refueling, then to Düsseldorf, where the jet was greeted by about 25 security and medical personnel.
“My observation is he will spend the rest of his days in a German nursing home,” said Davis. “It would surprise me if he was around even a year or two from now.”
German authorities told CNN it was unlikely that Palij would face retribution, since neither membership in the SS nor even training in the labor camp are considered “prosecutable” under contemporary German law.
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