Recently news broke that a 94-year-old man, Michael Karkoc, who has resided in a quiet northeast Minneapolis neighborhood for almost 70 years, is suspected of being the former leader of a Nazi unit accused of committing war crimes in World War II.
The story set off a media frenzy, with reporters from across the globe descending on Minneapolis, camping out on the elderly man’s lawn and knocking on his door. “I don’t think I can explain,” he said to reporters.
While the case has raised many interesting questions, some important historical details are not being discussed in the media and the overall moral of the story — namely, that war takes a terrible toll on the lives of everyone it touches — hasn’t been adequately examined.
Media sharks smell 70-year-old blood
According to a report from the Associated Press, Karkoc led a unit which carried out brutal attacks on civilians, including an attack on a village that killed more than 40 men, women and children.
While evidence indicates that Karkoc was in the area of the massacres, no records link him directly to atrocities.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wants the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the AP’s allegations.
Rabbi Hier sent a formal letter to the agency saying he wants an immediate inquiry to find out whether Karkoc should be brought to justice. This week, German prosecutors opened a formal preliminary investigation into the case.
Meanwhile, Karkoc’s son, speaking on behalf of his father, has vehemently denied the AP report, claiming the news agency “intentionally and maliciously defamed” his father by publishing the story.
The Associated Press report contended that Karoc, who has been living in Minnesota since shortly after the war, lied to American immigration officials in 1949 in order to gain entry to the United States.
Karkoc told U.S. authorities he was a carpenter and performed no military service during the war, even though records show he was a commander of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion.
Members of his unit and other witnesses have told stories of brutal attacks on civilians.
Vasyl Malazhenski, a man who has been described as working under Karkoc’s command, told Soviet investigators that in 1944 the unit was directed to “liquidate all the residents” of the village of Chlaniow in a reprisal attack for the killing of a German SS officer.
“It was all like a trance: setting the fires, the shooting, the destroying,” Malazhenski recalled, according to the 1967 statement found by the AP in the archives of Warsaw’s state-run Institute of National Remembrance, which investigates and prosecutes German and Soviet crimes on Poles during and after World War II.
“Later, when we were passing in file through the destroyed village,” Malazhenski said, “I could see the dead bodies of the killed residents: men, women, children.”
U.S. records show that in 1949 Karkoc said he had never performed any military service, telling investigators that he “worked for father until 1944. Worked in labor camp from 1944 until 1945.”
Did Karkoc, a Ukrainian immigrant, lie to get into the country? This is the question most media reports are asking — or even insinuating the answer is “yes.” “Minnesota Nazi: How did Nazi hunters miss Michael Karkoc?” asks the Christian Science Moniter. “Nazi Commander Discovery Stirs Up Painful Memories,” relays a local CBS affiliate in Minnesota.
But most reports neglect to collect any detail on life in Ukraine in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the Ukraine, a chaotic period of incessant warfare led up to the period in which WWII took place.
The establishment of the Ukrainian People’s Republic occurred in 1921, an independent Ukraine emerging from its own civil war. Then Soviet aggression and the Ukrainian–Soviet War followed, which resulted in Soviet victory. The Ukrainian People’s Republic was occupied and a puppet state called Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was created.
The Soviet government was hostile to Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture, and Ukrainian poets, historians and linguists faced repression. Then there was a genocide of Ukrainians: millions of people starved to death in 1932 and 1933 during the Holodomor. After the 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian SSR’s territory was enlarged westward. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army tried to reestablish Ukrainian independence and fought against both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But in 1941 Ukraine was occupied by Nazi Germany and in 1944, it was “liberated” by the Soviets.
The Russian army had no food or uniforms. Political dissidents and others were being sent to Siberian work camps, where brutality, disease and starvation killed over one million people from the 30s to the early 50s. They even sent their returning soldiers who had been POWs to the camps because they had seen the outside world and could no longer be trusted.
Karkoc allegedly belonged to the Ukrainian liberation forces that were attempting to free Ukraine from Russian rule. Josef Stalin had starved and imprisoned millions of people to control the country. Both Russia and Germany were trying to take over the area Karkoc resided in.
In short, for a young Ukrainian man during the 1930s and 1940s, life was precarious.
Answering the unasked questions
The question of how someone accused of committing war crimes could escape detection for 70 some years is certainly an intriguing one, especially since Karkoc apparently published his story in a Ukrainian-language memoir in 1995. Karkoc states that he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 in collaboration with the Nazis’ feared SS intelligence agency, the SD, to fight on the side of Germany — and served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.
“It was not clear why Karkoc felt safe publishing his memoir, which is available at the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library and which the AP located online in an electronic Ukrainian library,” one report commented.
Perhaps Karkoc felt as though his time in the war had been like the time many military members serve in the war. Rife with tragedy, horror, and yet another tragic example of man’s inhumanity towards mankind.
Certainly WWII – and any war- brings up terrible memories for anyone who lived through those times. My grandfather, an American soldier, served in the Second World War. He would have been about the same age as Karkoc. He passed away in the 1980s.
As a child, I remember asking him about his experience in the war. He never said much of anything. He struggled with symptoms of what we know today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The lesson I took from this is that war takes a terrible toll on all of the lives in touches. In war, many are called upon to kill, and to do terrible things that seem incomprehensibly savage and immoral to those not at war.
So rather than interpreting Karkoc’s case (if Karkoc is indeed guilty of the crimes he is being accused of) as just another example of the long arm of the law finally catching up with somebody, perhaps we should use it as a reminder: that war is indeed hell, and that the world would be better off if we had less of it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.