An investigation by the Associated Press has found that a 94-year-old man who moved to Minnesota in 1949 was actually the commander of Nazi SS-led unit during World War II. According to the report published on Friday, Michael Karkoc emigrated to the U.S. after telling immigration officials that he performed no military service during the war. However, reporters David Rising, Randy Herschaft, and Monika Scislowska say they have uncovered evidence that Karkoc was a member of two military units that were accused of massacring whole villages in Poland during the conflict.
Karkoc is a native of Ukraine who helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, a unit of Ukrainian nationalist soliders who fought alongside the German army against the Soviets and received orders directly from the SS, the Nazi's burtal security force. Other members of that unit have testified in the past that they were ordered to "liquidate" entire villages, burning homes and killing women and children. Karkoc was allegedly an officer in the SS Galician Division, which helped surpress the Warsaw Uprising in Poland. After the war, both units were placed on a government blacklist that was supposed to prevent any of its members from entering the United States.
The U.S. does not have the legal authority to prosecute Nazi war criminals, but if the AP report is verified, Karkoc could be deported to Germany and be put on trial for war crimes. Under German law, any one with "command authority" of a unit that participated in atrocities can be punished, even if there is no direct evidence of the individual's involvement.
When contacted by the AP, Karkov refused an interview to discuss his wartime history. He still lives in Minneapolis.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the facts that Karkoc lied to American officials, passed a background check, and lived in the United States unnoticed for more than 60 years, is that he actually a published a memoir in 1995 in which he admits to founding the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, serving as a company commander, and collaborating with the SS. The book is available in the Library of Congress, but was written in Ukrainian and has likely been read by very few people.
The AP not only found the book, they uncovered the Army intelligence file prepared on Karkoc when he moved — a document that found no red flags in his background — and more documents from Europe, including pay stubs, that connect him to the German army and those specific units. In perhaps the oddest twist of all to this incredible story, the AP's reporters were tipped off to Karkoc by an amateur historian in Britain, who found him on the Internet while researching members of the old Galician Division.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.