Suspected Nazi commander found living in Minnesota
Ukrainian national Michael Karkoc (94) accused of leading SS unit during second World War
Adolf Hitler and his chief of police Heinrich Himmler inspecting the SS Guard. Photograph: Getty Images
A suspected top commander of a Nazi SS-led unit accused of burning villages filled with women and children has been living in Minnesota for over 60 years, according to reports.
Michael Karkoc (94), told US authorities in 1949 that he had performed no military service during the second World War, concealing his work as an officer and founding member of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defence Legion and later as an officer in the SS Galician Division, according to records obtained by through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Galician Division and a Ukrainian nationalist organisation he served in were both on a secret American government blacklist of organisations whose members were forbidden from entering the US at the time.
Though records do not show Karkoc had a direct hand in war crimes, statements from men in his unit and other documentation confirm the Ukrainian company he commanded massacred civilians, and suggest that he was at the scene of these atrocities as the company leader.
Nazi SS files say he and his unit were also involved in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in which the Nazis brutally suppressed a Polish rebellion against German occupation.
Polish prosecutors announced yesterday after the release of the AP investigation that they will investigate Karkoc and provide “every possible assistance” to the US Department of Justice, which has used lies in immigration papers to deport dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals.
The evidence of Karkoc’s wartime activities has also prompted German authorities to express interest in exploring whether there is enough to prosecute.
Karkoc refused to discuss his wartime past at his home in Minneapolis, and repeated efforts to set up an interview, using his son as an intermediary, were unsuccessful.
Efraim Zuroff, the lead Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, said that based on his decades of experience pursuing Nazi war criminals, he expects that the evidence showing Karkoc lied to American officials and that his unit carried out atrocities is strong enough for deportation and war-crimes prosecution in Germany or Poland.
The deputy head of the German office that investigates Nazi war crimes, Thomas Will, said that based on the AP’s evidence, he is interested in gathering information that could possibly result in prosecution.
Karkoc now lives in a modest house in northeast Minneapolis in an area with a significant Ukrainian population. Even at his advanced age, he came to the door without help of a cane. He would not comment on his wartime service for Nazi Germany. “I don’t think I can explain,” he said.
Members of his unit and other witnesses have told stories of brutal attacks on civilians.
One of Karkoc’s men, Vasyl Malazhenski, told Soviet investigators that in 1944 the unit was directed to “liquidate all the residents” of the village of Chlaniow, Poland, in a reprisal attack for the killing of a German SS officer, though he did not say who gave the order.
In a background check by US officials on April 14th, 1949, Karkoc said he had never performed any military service, telling investigators that he “worked for father until 1944. Worked in labour camp from 1944 until 1945.”
However, in a Ukrainian-language memoir published in 1995, Karkoc states that he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defence 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.
Karkoc’s name surfaced when a retired clinical pharmacologist who took up Nazi war crimes research in his free time came across it while looking into members of the SS Galician Division who emigrated to Britain. Stephen Ankier, who is based in London, tipped off AP when an internet search showed an address for Karkoc in Minnesota.
The AP located Karkoc’s US Army intelligence file, and got it declassified by the National Archives in Maryland through a FoI request. The file said standard background checks found no red flags that would disqualify him from entering the US but noted that key information from the Soviet side was missing.
Wartime documents located by the AP also confirm Karkoc’s membership in the Self Defence Legion. They include a Nazi payroll sheet found in Polish archives, signed by an SS officer on January 8th, 1945 - only four months before the war’s end - confirming that Karkoc was present in Krakow, Poland, to collect his salary as a member of the Self Defence Legion. Karkoc signed the document.
Karkoc, an ethnic Ukrainian, was born in the city of Lutsk in 1919, according to details he provided to American officials. He joined the regular German army after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and fought on the Eastern Front in Ukraine and Russia.
Following the war, Karkoc ended up in a camp for displaced people in Neu Ulm, Germany, according to documents obtained from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The documents indicate that his wife died in 1948, a year before he and their two young boys - born in 1945 and 1946 - emigrated to the US.
After he arrived in Minneapolis, he remarried and had four more children, the last born in 1966.
Karkoc told American officials he was a carpenter, and records indicate he worked for a nationwide construction company that has an office in Minneapolis.