As the history of Nazi hunting approaches its inevitable end, it could seem anticlimactic that one of its final chapters concerns a 98-year-old resident of an assisted living facility in a quiet, tree-lined section of north-east Minneapolis.
In March, a Polish judge issued an arrest warrant for Michael Karkoc, for his alleged role as a “top commander” of a Nazi-affiliated Ukrainian nationalist unit that massacred 44 civilians, including women and children, in the Polish village of Chłaniów in 1944.
Last week, the Polish embassy forwarded that request to the US state department, where it will be reviewed before being sent to the justice department. From there, if approved, it would go to the US attorney’s office in Minnesota, where a hearing would be set in front of a magistrate judge. Age and health are not factors considered in extradition requests, and the task of Polish prosecutors will be a narrow one: to establish probable cause that Karkoc committed the crimes.
The request could be a decisive development in a saga that has made headlines since it first came to light four years ago, when the Associated Press published an exposé of the unit that killed the villagers in a reprisal attack.
German prosecutors investigated Karkoc, but dropped the case in 2015 after determining he was unfit to stand trial. This makes the Polish extradition request the first – and perhaps only – official legal action against Karkoc, who emigrated to the United States in 1949 and is a naturalized US citizen.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Polish move comes as something of a relief to his most vigorous defender, his son Andriy, a retired mortgage banker. Karkoc Jr, who has in the past spelled his name Karkos for professional reasons, is eager to see the case tried in court, and not just in the media.
“If the Polish government is stupid enough or shameless enough to continue this charade, at least at such time we will be presented, hopefully, with whatever it is they claim they have in the form of evidence,” Andriy Karkoc told the Guardian.
Karkoc brought a folder full of press clippings with him to his interview with the Guardian, most of them heavily underlined, with notes written in the margins. When he read the more dramatic passages about his father, his voice dripped with sarcasm.
Seriously, that’s your legitimate source to point the finger for war crimes on my dad? The KGB?
He said he would not let any journalist speak directly with his father. Michael Karkoc’s only comment on the allegations on the record has been his brief remark to the AP: “I don’t think I can explain.”
However, Andriy Karkoc quoted his father asking: “How can such a thing happen in America? I fought the Germans, the Nazis tried to kill me and my family – and now they’re calling me a Nazi?”
“The horror inflicted on my father is immeasurable and incalculable,” said Andriy Karkoc. “The physical, emotional and spiritual toll was/is devastating and debilitating,” he said in a text. “The only way anyone will ‘hear’ from my father is directly from me.”
Andriy Karkoc said the accusations were part of a Russian-led smear campaign against Ukrainian nationalists, and asked whether the AP’s sources are credible and will pass legal muster.
So was Michael Karkoc the “patriot, father, and freedom fighter” his son describes, or a Ukrainian nationalist who helped kill innocent civilians on behalf of his Nazi benefactors, as his accusers have alleged?