MINNEAPOLIS – A prosecutor in Poland is contending there is ample evidence to seek the arrest of a Minneapolis man on allegations that he commanded a Nazi unit implicated in the deaths of 44 Poles, The Associated Press reported Monday.
Prosecutor Robert Janicki said that various evidence gathered in the yearslong investigation into 98-year-old Michael Karkoc has confirmed “100 percent” that he was a World War II commander of a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, which is accused of burning villages and killing civilians in Poland.
Prosecutors of the state National Remembrance Institute have asked a local court in Poland to issue an arrest warrant for Karkoc. If granted, Poland would seek his extradition, Janicki told the AP.
The latest development reopens what Karkoc and his family thought was an issue settled in July 2015, when the German government determined that he wasn’t physically well enough to stand trial because of Alzheimer’s disease.
Family members have steadfastly denied that Karkoc was involved in any war crimes and continue to do so in the wake of this latest development.
“The Associated Press is peddling fake news,” Karkoc’s son, Andriy, said Monday.
The evidence is “100 percent baseless” and nothing more than “hearsay, slander, innuendo and lies,” the son continued, contending there is “nothing in the historical record” that implicates his father.
Pointing to Germany’s decision not to pursue his father’s prosecution nearly two years ago because of poor health, Andriy Karkoc said Monday that “nothing has changed” in Michael Karkoc’s physical condition since then.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, told the Star Tribune on Monday that he is “very pleased that Poland wants to extradite and prosecute” Michael Karkoc, adding that “we have knowledge of the role that he played in World War II.”
As for Michael Karkoc’s health and whether he is well enough to defend himself in the event of a trial, Zuroff said from his office in Jerusalem, “If Mr. Karkoc cannot stand trial, he should not be put on trial. I don’t want to bring to trial someone who is out of connection with reality. … But if he can be put on trial, yes, I would like to see that.”
Zuroff called for an “independent medical determination” of Michael Karkoc’s fitness. “There are court-appointed doctors (in the United States) who can determine this.”
Keep in mind, Zuroff said, there have been Nazi perpetrators who try “to appear as weak and infirmed as possible to avoid going on trial.”
As for Poland stepping up after Germany declined, Zuroff said, “It’s high time that the Poles became more active seeking people who committed crimes in World War II on Polish soil.”
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, echoed the sentiment in a statement, saying the organization “profoundly respects the right of Poland to seek justice for Nazi crimes committed on its soil – in accordance with due process.”
Andriy Karkoc has been asserting his father’s innocence since the AP reported in 2013 that the elder Karkoc once commanded the notorious unit and lied to U.S. immigration officials to get into the United States after World War II.
The AP said in a second report that it uncovered evidence that Karkoc ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed, contradicting statements from his family that he was never at the scene. The stories were based on wartime documents, testimony from other members of the unit and Karkoc’s own Ukrainian-language memoir.
Andriy Karkoc has said his father joined the underground movement of the Defense Legion to defend his country against the Nazis.
In 2002, Michael Karkoc helped fund and construct a monument in Ukraine in honor of 12 people from the Defense Legion who were killed by the Nazis after their underground activities were exposed, he said.
Germany’s investigation started in earnest in 2014, when its federal Court of Justice said Karkoc’s service in the Defense Legion made him the “holder of a German office.” That gave Germany the legal right to prosecute him even though he is not German, and his alleged crimes were against non-Germans and not committed on German soil.