Michael Karkoc, Exposed as a War Criminal, Is Dead at 100


Michael Karkoc, a retired Minnesota carpenter who was exposed as a former commander of a Nazi-led unit that was accused of atrocities in World War II, died on Dec. 14, public and cemetery records show. He was 100.

Mr. Karkoc, whose family maintained that he had never been a Nazi or committed any war crimes, lived quietly in a heavily Eastern European neighborhood of Minneapolis for decades until a review of American and Ukrainian records by The Associated Press in 2013 uncovered his past and prompted investigations in Germany and Poland.

His son, Andriy Karkoc, hung up on an A.P. reporter without confirming his father’s death. Officials at the Kozlak-Radulovich Funeral Chapel, which was listed on one website as having handled the funeral arrangements, declined to comment.

But records at Hillside Cemetery in Minneapolis show that he was buried there on Dec. 19, next to his wife, Nadia Karkoc, who died in 2018. And Minnesota Department of Health records show that a Michael Karkoc, with a birth date matching that of the Michael Karkoc listed in Nazi wartime documents, died five days earlier.

Mr. Karkoc’s involvement in the war surfaced when a retiree who had researched Nazi war crimes approached The Associated Press after coming across his name. The A.P. investigation relied on a broad range of interviews and documents, including German military payroll information and company rosters, United States Army intelligence files, Ukrainian intelligence findings and Mr. Karkoc’s self-published memoir.

The records established that Mr. Karkoc had been a commander in the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion, which took orders directly from Germany’s feared SS intelligence agency; that his unit attacked a Polish village in 1944, killing dozens of women and children; and that he then lied to the American authorities about his military service to get into the United States after the war.

A second A.P. report uncovered testimony by a former soldier in Mr. Karkoc’s unit, who said that Mr. Karkoc had ordered his men to attack the village, Chlaniow, in retaliation for the killing of an SS major.

The A.P. articles prompted Germany and Poland to investigate. German prosecutors announced in 2015 that they had shelved their case because Mr. Karkoc, then 96, was not fit to stand trial. But Polish prosecutors announced in 2017 that they would seek his arrest and extradition.

Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said it was unfortunate that Poland and the United States did not move more aggressively on extradition. “They seem to have handled this case with a lack of urgency,” Mr. Zuroff said in a phone interview from Israel.

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to an email from The A.P. on Tuesday asking about the status of the Karkoc case.

An investigative file from the Ukrainian intelligence agency’s archive revealed that Ivan Sharko, who had been a Ukrainian soldier under Mr. Karkoc’s command, testified in 1968 that the initial order to attack Chlaniow had been given by another officer, but that Mr. Karkoc, who fought under the nom de guerre Wolf, told his unit to attack the village.

“The commander of our company, Wolf, also gave the command to cordon off the village and check all the houses, and to find and punish the partisans,” Mr. Sharko testified, as part of a Ukrainian investigation of the Self-Defense Legion. He said members of the legion had set the houses on fire and shot anyone found inside or in the streets. Mr. Sharko died in the 1980s.

Mr. Karkoc, an ethnic Ukrainian, was born in the city of Lutsk in 1919, according to details he provided to American officials. At the time, the area was being fought over by Ukraine, Poland and others; it ended up part of Poland until World War II.

In a Ukrainian-language memoir published in 1995 and available at the Library of Congress, Mr. Karkoc said he helped found the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion in 1943, in collaboration with the SS.

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