The Polish government has identified a 98-year-old Minnesota man as a former Nazi commander and wants to bring him to justice despite his advanced age.
The Poles believe that Michael Karkoc, of Minneapolis, was “a former commander in an SS-led unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians in World War II,” according to CBS News.
Karkoc’s alleged past was first brought to light in 2013 by The Associated Press and most news accounts are based on the wire service’s reporting. Despite his advanced age, the Polish government has announced it will seek his extradition. For years, Karkoc lived quietly in Minneapolis, raising a family, serving as parish president, working as a carpenter, and writing his memoirs, according to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The Polish government believes he was an SS commander responsible for the murders of dozens of civilians, including children, AP reports.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Polish Government Believes It’s 100 Percent Certain That Karkoc Was an SS Commander Involved in Atrocities
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that prosecutor Robert Janicki said the Poles are “100%” certain Karkoc is the man they are calling “Michael K” based on evidence compiled over years.
“All the pieces of evidence interwoven together allow us to say the person who lives in the U.S. is Michael K., who commanded the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion which carried out the pacification of Polish villages in the Lublin region,” Janicki said, according to the Star-Tribune.
The original AP report alleged that Karkoc was “a founding member and lieutenant in the 2nd company of the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion (USDL) – a battalion organised and sponsored by the Nazi Schutzstaffel, led by the SS,” reported The Independent. A German payroll sheet was among documents collected, according to the news site.
2. A German Prosecution of Karkoc Was Stopped Previously Because of His Health
According to CBS News, when the AP story first came to light in 2013, German prosecutors considered bringing a case against Karkoc.
However, they opted not to do so back then because of his poor health, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, CBS News reported.
According to the Independent, in 2015, the German prosecutors declined to investigate, saying “the decision that Mr. Karkoc would not be fit to stand trial was made on the basis of ‘comprehensive medical documentation’ from doctors at the geriatric hospital in America where he is being treated.”
Poland, though, believes otherwise.
3. Karkoc’s Unit Gunned Down Men, Women & Children in Attacks on Polish Villages, Prosecutors Say
The 2013 AP story alleged that Karkoc lied to American immigration authorities about his background and “uncovered evidence that Karkoc himself ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed,” reported the Star-Tribune.
The newspaper added that “a private under Karkoc’s command testified in 1968 that Karkoc ordered an assault on the village of Chlaniow in retaliation for the slaying of the SS major who led the Legion, in which Karkoc was a company commander.”
According to WCPO, survivors of the Chlaniow massacre have described what happened in graphic terms. The story, based on an AP account, quotes a woman named Henryka Jablonska, who said “a man in a dark uniform aimed a machine gun at her. He pulled the trigger but the weapon wouldn’t fire.” The man is not identified but the television station says “44 fellow villagers were killed when troops of the Nazi SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion marched into this Polish farming community in July 1944 to exact revenge for an attack by resistance fighters that killed their German commander.”
The village was “razed to the ground” and “dozens of women and children” were killed, but Karkoc’s family maintains he was not there, according to The New York Daily News.
4. Karkoc’s Family Denies He Participated in Atrocities & He Was a Parish President Who Worked in Construction
Andriy Karkoc, Karkoc’s son, told the Associated Press that the allegations were “scandalous and baseless slanders.”
“There’s nothing in the historical record that indicates my father had any role whatsoever in any type of war crime activity,” he said, according to AP.
The son derided the AP’s reporting as “fake news.”
Karkoc’s brother, Peter Karkoc, previously told Heavy in 2013 that his brother had lived in Minneapolis since 1949 and was remarried to a woman named Nadia with whom he has children.
Peter Karkoc said he was 9 years old when the war broke out, but would not comment on his brother’s military service. “We went through hell during the war,” he said.
According to the Star Tribune, Karkoc served as parish president of his Ukrainian church in Minneapolis and used his construction trade to build a parish rectory in Minneapolis; the newspaper said he also penned a 170-page memoir in 1995 that “tells of the civil-war-like political turmoil within Ukraine before and during the war and of how Karkoc fled his homeland in 1939 to escape from the Communists, only to wind up in Nazi-occupied Poland, where he was conscripted into the German army.”
5. Poland Wants to Extradite Karkoc, Who Was Born in Ukraine, Despite His Advanced Age
Fox News reports that Karkoc came to the U.S. with two sons and eventually had four more children in Minnesota.
According to Fox News, “prosecutors of the state National Remembrance Institute have asked a regional court in Lublin, Poland, to issue an arrest warrant for Karkoc. If granted, Poland would seek his extradition, as Poland does not allow trial in absentia.”
Prosecutors said they were insistent on bringing Karkoc to trial despite the fact he is almost 100-years-old, according to Fox News.
Years ago, Karkoc gave an interview to a University of Minnesota journalism publication, reported The Star-Tribune, and described growing up in Ukraine caught between the Soviets and Germans: “For us, it was a very bad situation,” he said in the story. “We knew that if we fight the Germans, we help the Soviet Union. If we fight the Soviet Union, we help the Germans. There was no other way. We was just defending our people.”
His first wife died in a displacement camp during World War II, the Star Tribune reported.