MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — New evidence that a Minneapolis man who commanded a Nazi SS-led unit ordered an attack on a Polish village in World War II underscores the need for federal authorities to investigate, a leader of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas said Monday.
The Associated Press uncovered testimony that Michael Karkoc, now 94, ordered his unit in the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion to attack the village of Chlaniow in 1994 in retaliation for the killing of an SS major who led the legion, contradicting past statements by his family that he was not there.
The 1968 testimony from a file in Ukrainian intelligence archives came from a soldier in Karkoc’s unit. And the special prosecutor leading German’s investigation into the case told the AP on Monday that he has decided to recommend that state prosecutors pursue murder charges against Karkoc.
“Today’s revelations and the decision of the German prosecutor strengthen an already strong case against the alleged Nazi war criminal,” said Steve Hunegs, the group’s executive director. “This is an important teaching moment.”
Hunegs said his group was also sending a letter to the U.S. Justice Department on Monday renewing its request that the federal government investigate Karkoc. The department has refused to comment on whether it is conducting its own investigation or aiding any European investigators, and it declined to comment again Monday.
Karkoc himself remained silent on the new information Monday.
“He’s not interested in talking to you,” said a son, who came to the door of his father’s home in northeast Minneapolis but would not give his name.
Asked about the new information, the man told an AP reporter: “It’s defamation of my father, OK? Please leave. Get off the property right now.”
Another son who has acted as a family spokesman, Andriy Karkos, did not immediately return messages Monday. He called the allegations “defamatory and slanderous” when informed about the testimony Friday, and that was before the German prosecutor recommended charges.
Hunegs noted that some people question the need for prosecutions given the advanced age of Karkoc and others who’ve been accused in recent years of involvement in wartime atrocities. But he said it’s more important to look at the years of lives lost by innocent Poles in the reprisal raid, and at the years of lives lost by Minnesota soldiers who fought and died in Europe during World War II.
It’s never too late to prosecute crimes against humanity, said Alejandro Baer, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. He said it’s important that German prosecutors are moving forward.
“It sends a strong message for the present. It’s not only about the past,” Baer said.
Antin Semeniuk, a Minneapolis friend of Karkoc, said that after the AP published its initial report that Karkoc had commanded the SS-led unit, Karkoc told him that he hadn’t been a Nazi. Rather, he described himself as a Ukrainian patriot who wanted his country to be democratic and free of Nazi and Communist rule, Semenium said. Semeniuk, who just turned 105 and wrote a foreword to Karkoc’s 1995 memoir, said he has no reason not to believe his friend.
But Karkoc’s next-door neighbor, Gordon Gnasdoskey, said Karkoc has enjoyed the good life in America for many years, and those responsible for wartime atrocities should be held accountable regardless of age.
“As far as I’m concerned they can take him back to German and try him,” he said.
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