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Shock lingers after Nazi unit leader found in US

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 15, 2013 at 11:00 pm •  Published: June 15, 2013
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Karkoc and his family are longtime members of the St. Michael's and St. George's Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

"All the time I am here, I know him as a good man, a good citizen," said the Rev. Evhen Kumka, the church's pastor. "He's well known in the congregation."

Kumka moved from Ukraine to Minnesota 19 years ago to lead the congregation, and said Karkoc was already active in the church. Kumka wouldn't say whether he'd spoken to Karkoc about his past, but said he was skeptical.

"I don't think everything is correct," Kumka said. "As I know him, he is a good example for many people."

Karkoc worked as a carpenter in Minneapolis, and appeared in a 1980 issue of Carpenter magazine among a group celebrating 25 years of union membership. He was a member and a secretary in the local branch of the Ukrainian National Association, a fraternal organization, and voting records obtained by the AP show he regularly voted in city, state and general elections.

Karkoc's name surfaced when a retired clinical pharmacologist who researched Nazi war crimes in his free time came across it while looking into members of the SS Galician Division who immigrated to Britain. He tipped off the AP when an Internet search showed an address for Karkoc in Minnesota.

The AP located Karkoc's U.S. Army intelligence file, and got it declassified by the National Archives in Maryland through a FOIA request. The Army was responsible for processing visa applications after the war under the Displaced Persons Act.

The intelligence file said standard background checks found no red flags that would disqualify Karkoc from entering the United States. But it also noted that it lacked key information from the Soviet side regarding the verification of his identity.

Wartime documents located by the AP also confirm Karkoc's membership in the Self Defense Legion. They include a Nazi payroll sheet found in Polish archives, signed by an SS officer on Jan. 8, 1945 — only four months before the war's end — confirming that Karkoc was present in Krakow, Poland, to collect his salary as a member of the Self Defense Legion.

He joined the regular German army after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and fought on the Eastern Front in Ukraine and Russia, according to his memoirs, which say he was awarded an Iron Cross for bravery.

He was also a member of the Ukrainian nationalist organization OUN; in 1943, he helped negotiate with the Nazis to have men drawn from its membership form the Self Defense Legion, according to his account. In 1945, the legion was dissolved and folded into the SS Galician Division.

Policy at the time of Karkoc's immigration application — according to a declassified secret U.S. government document obtained by the AP from the National Archives — was to deny a visa to anyone who had served in either the SS Galician Division or the OUN.

Justice Department spokesman Michael Passman in Washington said the agency was aware of the AP story and could not confirm or deny an investigation.

News of Karkoc's past prompted anger from World War II survivors in countries where the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion was active. In Poland, Honorata Banach told the AP she wants Karkoc to apologize. She was 20 when she fled the Polish village of Chlaniow before it was burned down by the legion.

"There was so much suffering, so many orphans, so much pain," Banach said. She and her mother returned the day after the attack, she said, to see that "everything was burned down, even the fences, the trees. I could not even find my house."

Survivors told her the Ukrainian legion did it, she said.

Sam Rafowitz, an 88-year-old Jewish resident of the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka, grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and spent four years working in concentration camps. He took a hard line after hearing the news about Karkoc.

"I think they should put him on trial," said Rafowitz, who lost his mother and other relatives at the Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. He said soldiers in the camp were German but that it was run by Ukrainians.

"You don't forget," Rafowitz said. "For me, it's been almost close to 70 years those things happened, but I still know about it. I still remember everything."

Menachem Rosensaft, who was born in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, now teaches the law of genocide and war crimes at several New York universities. He said Karkoc is a reminder that the Holocaust and other genocides "cannot be viewed as abstract history."

"I have every confidence that if Mr. Karkoc was not already on the Justice Department's radar screen, he now is," Rosensaft said.

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Rising reported from Berlin, Herschaft from New York, Scislowska from Warsaw and Condon from Minneapolis. Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Ukraine; Efrem Lukatsky in Pidhaitsi, Ukraine; Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, Ukraine; Amy Forliti, Doug Glass and Brian Bakst in Minneapolis; and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.

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David Rising can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/davidrising ; Randy Herschaft at http://www.twitter.com/HerschaftAP