By Patrick Condon and Amy Forliti
The Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — The revelation Friday that a former commander of a Nazi SS-led military unit has lived quietly in Minneapolis for the past six decades came as a shock to people who knew him, prompted harsh condemnations from World War II survivors in the U.S. and Europe, and led prosecutors in Poland to say they would investigate.
An Associated Press investigation found that 94-year-old Michael Karkoc served as a top commander in the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion during World War II. The unit is accused of wartime atrocities, including the burning of villages filled with women and children. Wartime records don’t show that Karkoc had a direct hand in war crimes, though records indicate he lied about his military past when immigrating to the U.S.
“I know him personally. We talk, laugh. He takes care of his yard and walks with his wife,” his next-door neighbor, Gordon Gnasdoskey, said Friday. Gnasdoskey, the grandson of a Ukrainian immigrant himself, said he was disturbed by the revelations about his longtime neighbor.
No one answered the door Friday morning at Karkoc’s house on a residential street in northeast Minneapolis, where several television news trucks were parked outside. Karkoc had earlier declined to comment on his wartime service when approached by the AP, and repeated efforts to arrange an interview through his son — including again Friday — were unsuccessful.
Sam Rafowitz, an 88-year-old Jewish resident of the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka, grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and spent four years working in concentration camps. He took a hard line after hearing the news about Karkoc.
“I think they should put him on trial,” said Rafowitz, who was born near the border of Germany and Poland.
He may get his wish: Poland’s National Remembrance Institute, which prosecutes wartime crimes, said its prosecutors would investigate Karkoc’s “possible role” in crimes committed by the legion and would provide “every possible assistance” in gathering evidence for the U.S. justice system. The U.S. government has previously used lies in immigration papers to deport dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals.
Karkoc’s unit was associated with the 1944 Warsaw uprising, in which Nazis brutally suppressed a Polish rebellion against German occupation. Karkoc also lied to American immigration officials to get into the U.S., telling authorities in 1949 that he had performed no military service during the war. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959.
In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Michael Passman said the agency was aware of the AP story.
“While we do not confirm or deny the existence of specific investigations, I can say as a general matter that the Department of Justice continues to pursue all credible allegations of participation in World War II Nazi crimes by US citizens and residents,” Passman said.