Michael Karkoc today is a 94-year-old man who potters around his yard in northeast Minneapolis, but Polish officials say that during the World War II, Karkoc was a Nazi commander and that, despite his advanced age, he should be brought to justice.
— euronews Italiano (@euronewsit) March 14, 2017
As such, Poland will seek the arrest and extradition of Karkoc. An Associated Press investigation alleges that, when emigrating to the United States in 1949, Michael Karkoc lied about his role in WWII.
The Guardian reported that Karkoc told authorities he had performed no military service during the war and that he concealed his work as an officer and founding member of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, later becoming an officer in the SS Galician Division. This information was obtained by AP through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Both the Galicia Division and a Ukrainian Nationalist Organization in which Karkoc served were on a secret United States government blacklist of organizations whose members at that time were banned from entering the United States.
A prosecutor in #Poland says that a 98-year-old man from Minnesota, Michael Karkoc, was a Nazi commander who killed 44 Poles during WWII. pic.twitter.com/nuWKn1tChh
— Conflict Watch™ (@ConflictWatchTM) March 13, 2017
In fact, Michael Karkoc is suspected of being the commander of a Nazi SS-led unit which torched villages filled with women and children. It’s not known whether Karkoc was himself directly responsible for war crimes; however, statements from men serving in his unit and other relevant documentation confirm that civilians were massacred by the Ukrainian company he led. They also suggest that, as company leader, Karkoc was at the scene of these atrocities. Further, according to SS files, Michael Karkoc and his unit were involved in the Warsaw uprising in 1944 when a Polish rebellion against German occupation was brutally suppressed by the Nazis.
Efraim Zuroff is the lead Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. It’s his opinion that, because Karkoc’s unit carried out atrocities and that he lied to American officials, the evidence is strong enough for deportation and prosecution for war crimes in Poland or Germany.
“In America, this is a relatively easy case: If he was the commander of a unit that carried out atrocities, that’s a no brainer. Even in Germany, if the guy was the commander of the unit, then even if they can’t show he personally pulled the trigger, he bears responsibility.”
From his home in Minneapolis, Karkoc refused to discuss his wartime past and declined to be interviewed. Like Michael Karkoc, Josef Scheungraber was a former Army lieutenant, and because he was the ranking officer at the scene of a Nazi wartime massacre in Italy, he was convicted on charges of murder based on circumstantial evidence.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) March 13, 2017
Thomas Will is the deputy head of the special German office which investigates Nazi war crimes, and he believes that Karkoc has never been investigated by Germany. At 94-years-old, Karkoc walks without the help of a cane or walker and lives in a modest house in northeast Minneapolis, an area with a large Ukrainian population. Karkoc was subjected to a background check by United States officials on April 14, 1949, and stated that he had never performed any military service. He told investigators that he “worked for father until 1944. Worked in labor camp from 1944 until 1945.”
However, in his memoir published in 1995, he states that in 1943, he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in collaboration with the SD, the Nazis feared SS intelligence agency, to fight on the side of Germany. He served as Company Commander of the unit until the end of the war, receiving orders directly from the SS. A copy of his published memoir can be found at both the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library. Associated Press located the memoir online in an electronic Ukrainian library.
The Associated Press located wartime documents which also confirm Karkoc’s membership of the Self Defense Legion, including a Nazi payroll sheet found in Polish archives. The sheet was signed by an SS officer just four months prior to the end of the war, confirming that Michael Karkoc was present in Krakow, Poland, to collect his salary as a member of the Self Defense Legion.
In his memoirs, Karkoc talks about fighting anti-Nazi Polish resistance fighters; however, he makes no mention of civilian attacks. He does mention, though, that in the summer of 1944, he was with his company when Siegfried Assmuss, the Self Defense Legion’s commander, was killed.
He wrote about the partisan attack: “We lost an irreplaceable commander, Assmuss.”
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) March 13, 2017
What he doesn’t mention, though, is the retaliatory massacre that followed the death of Assmuss. According to the Associated Press, Karkoc commanded Teodozy Dak and Vasyl Malazhenski, who said that in reprisal for Assmuss’s death, the Ukrainian unit was ordered to liquidate Chlaniow. The next day they moved in, torching homes and machine-gunning people. More than 40 people died that day.
“The village was on fire,” Malazhenski said, and villagers later provided chilling testimony about the brutality of the attack.
Stanislawa Lipska, a Chlaniow resident, told a communist-era commission in 1948 that the shots started at about 7 a.m., then she saw the Ukrainian SS force entering the town, calling for people to come out of their homes.
“The Ukrainians were setting fire to the buildings. You could hear machine-gun shots and grenade explosions. Shots could be heard inside the village and on the outskirts. They were making sure no one escaped.”
Michael Karkoc commander Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion during World War II crushed Warsaw uprise lives in MINNEAPOLIS pic.twitter.com/54Tw6Ov4CL
— TIME_Journalist (@BroadShort) June 15, 2013
On December 3, 1944, Heorhiy Syvyi was just 9-years-old when troops entered the town: he fled with his father, hiding in a shelter covered with branches. His mother and 4-year-old brother were not so lucky and were killed.
“When we came out we saw the smoldering ashes of the burned house and our neighbors searching for the dead. My mother had my brother clasped to her chest. This is how she was found – black and burned.”
[Featured Composite Image Containing Photos by U.S. National Archives,Czarek Sokolowski/AP Images]