Will Michael Karkoc a Minneapolis, Minnesota man be extradited to Poland to face charges of WW2 war atrocities? The man’s family denies Poland’s new findings.
Polish authorities have told with certainty that 98 year old Minneapolis, Minnesota man, Michael Karkoc is the infamous Michael K who as a former SS Nazi commander was instrumental in the deaths of 44 Poles during World War 2.
The Star Tribune reports that Warsaw, Poland authorities will seek to arrest and extradite the man to face charges in the deaths of villagers, Karkoc allegedly led militias against.
Prosecutor Robert Janicki said evidence gathered over years of investigation into U.S. citizen Michael K. confirmed ‘100 per cent’ that he was a commander of a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defence Legion.
‘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 Defence Legion which carried out the pacification of Polish villages in the Lublin region,’ Janicki said.
Documents show that a Michael Karkoc, born March 6, 1919 in Lutsk, Ukraine, was the commander of a unit in the Ukranian Self Defense Legion (USDL).
The unit of which he was lieutenant allegedly participated in massacres at the Polish villages of Chłaniów and Władysławin on July 23, 1944.
The massacres – which saw women and children murdered – were ordered in retaliation for the killing of a single SS officer.
The identification of Karkoc comes after Ukrainian and German files indicate men from the man’s unit confirming that the SS leader was present when the atrocities were carried out.
The move to extradite Michael K comes after AP published a story four years ago establishing that Michael Karkoc commanded the unit, based on wartime documents, along with testimony from other members of the unit and Karkoc’s own Ukrainian-language memoir.
Karkoc’s family has repeatedly denied he was involved in any war crimes and his son questioned the validity of the evidence against him after Poland’s announcement, calling the accusations ‘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,’ said Andriy Karkoc in a statement.
Reiterated the son, ‘The Associated Press is peddling fake news.’
The son questioned the Polish investigation, saying ‘my father’s identity has never been in question nor has it ever been hidden.’
Karkoc a retired carpenter himself denies the claims, while conceding during a 2014 AP story that he ‘couldn’t explain’ what he did in the war.
The son over the weekend insisted that the allegations over his father come as ‘misinformation or disinformation’ from Vladimir Putin‘s government.
How or why the son determined the Russian government orchestrated matters has yet to be necessarily understood.
Prosecutors with the state National Remembrance Institute, which investigates Nazi and Communist-era crimes against Poles, have asked a regional court in Lublin to issue an arrest warrant for Karkoc. If granted, Poland would seek his extradition, as Poland does not allow trial in absentia.
While some question the decision of whether to move forward and extradite the 98 year old man, who may or may not have been involved in the murder of villagers, prosecutor Janicki said that the suspect’s age wasn’t considered an obstacle as authorities seek to evoke justice.
Affirmed the prosecutor, ‘He is our suspect as of today’.
If convicted of contributing to the killing of civilians in 1944, Karkoc could face life in prison.
Applauding the move to extradite Michael Karkoc was Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Told the Nazi hunter: ‘Any legal step that’s taken against these people is very important,’
‘It sends a very powerful message, and these kinds of things should not be abandoned just because of the age of a suspect.’
Of note, prosecutors in Germany shelved their own investigation of Karkoc in 2015 after saying they had received ‘comprehensive medical documentation’ from doctors at the geriatric hospital in the U.S. where he was being treated that led them to conclude he was not fit for trial.
Karkoc’s family says he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
That though hasn’t dissuaded Zuroff who has urged that Karkoc be reassessed by independent doctors.
Told the Israel based investigator, ‘It is a very common occurrence that elderly individuals facing prosecution for Second World War crimes make every effort to look as sick and as infirm as possible’.
AP’s initial investigation found that Karkoc entered the U.S. in 1949 by failing to disclose to American authorities his role as a commander in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defence Legion. The investigation found that Karkoc was in the area of the massacres, but did not uncover evidence linking him directly to atrocities.
Investigators said Michael K told US authorities at the time of his entry into the US that he ‘worked for his father until 1944. Worked in labor camp from 1944 until 1945.’ At no point did the man mention having ever served in the military or militia.
Karkok became a naturalized American citizen in 1959.
After arriving in Minneapolis, Karkoc remarried and had four more children, the last of whom was born in 1966.
He now lives in a Ukranian-dominant area of Minneapolis.
In building their case against the 98 year old man, Polish state prosecutors also pointed to the Ukrainian intelligence agency’s archive, revealing 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.
A German roster of the unit confirmed that Pvt. Ivan Sharko, a Ukrainian, served under Karkoc’s command at the time.
Other eyewitness accounts, both from villagers and members of Karkoc’s unit, corroborated the testimony that the company set buildings on fire and gunned down more than 40 men, women and children.
Other soldiers who served under Karkoc backed up Sharko’s testimony about civilian killings.
Pvt. Vasyl Malazhenski, for example, told Soviet investigators that in 1944 that unit was directed to ‘liquidate all the residents’ of Chlaniow — although he did not say who gave the order.
Sharko also testified in the investigative documents that Karkoc’s company was directly involved in a ‘punitive mission’ against Poles near the village of Sagryn in 1944.
In the interim, questions have been raised why it took so long to seek to bring the man to justice and what various governments or bureaus may have known and chosen not to act on in the past until now. While others wonder if bringing the man to court will serve to render any sense of justice and if not for the sake of political exercise.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota declined to comment on the case.