The case against 94-year-old Michael Karkoc, accused of being a former SS officer, is likely to be a "race against time," legal experts say.
There’s a long road ahead in determining whether allegations that 94-year-old Michael Karkoc of Minneapolis once led a Nazi military unit will force him to leave the United States.
German and Polish authorities have expressed interest in pursuing war crimes investigations against the Ukrainian immigrant, but authorities will first need to prove that Karkoc lied on his U.S. citizenship application when he said he hadn’t fought in World War II.
The United States would have to revoke his citizenship — a rare step — before he could be deported to face another country’s war crimes charges.
But St. Paul immigration lawyer Kim Hunter suggested Karkoc’s case will be closely examined.
“These are very high priority cases for the U.S. government,” Hunter said.
Karkoc, a retired carpenter living in northeast Minneapolis, has received worldwide attention since the Associated Press reported Friday that he had served as an officer in a Nazi SS-led military unit responsible for burning villages and killing many civilians in the final years of the war. Although the AP reported it had not found evidence that Karkoc took a direct hand in war crimes, it said he had apparently been present during several atrocities, including the vicious suppression of Polish nationalists by the Germans in the 1944 Warsaw uprising.
On Saturday, Karkoc’s family continued to deny the allegations through an attorney. Karkoc’s son called the AP report “sensationalist and scandalous” at a Friday news conference.
AP Media Relations Director Paul Colford said Saturday in a statement that the organization stands by its story.
“It’s been thoroughly reported,” he said, “including a description of Mr. Karkoc’s own memoir documenting his past.”
Several other national and international cases involving alleged Nazis have shown that time can be the enemy when events are so far removed, the accused are so elderly and so few witnesses remain.
In 1990, an 81-year-old Minneapolis man died in a nursing home before the Justice Department could strip the Latvian immigrant of his citizenship and deport him for war crimes. In 2011, John Demjanjuk was convicted of his role in the killing of 28,000 Jews at a Nazi death camp in Poland, but he died while an appeal was pending.
Still, local and national Jewish human rights groups are pressing federal investigators to take action.
“We should take our historical responsibility seriously,” said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“If it’s true, he’s been hiding here all these years,” he said. “Suddenly the eyes of the world will be on us.”
Age may prevent trial
According to the AP, Karkoc told immigration officials in 1949 that he had performed no military service during the war; he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959. Proving he lied on his citizenship form, an offense that would allow Karkoc to be stripped of his U.S. citizenship, could take six months to a year, experts said.
Even then, said University of Minnesota Law School Prof. Fred Morrison, Karkoc may not automatically be deported from the United States.