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Continued: Michael Karkoc's World War II story stuns Minneapolis, launches global inquiries

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 16, 2013 - 1:20 PM

Karkoc’s story has made for some lengthy discussions at Lane’s northeast Minneapolis shop, frequented by several local Ukrainian men who know Karkoc personally or attend his church. Most express frustration, Lane said, in part because Karkoc is 94 and the war was long ago.

“My thing is, these are accusations,” Lane said. “Nobody has proved anything yet. To take on a 94-year-old for something you think might have happened, I think is wrong.”

Many describe Karkoc as soft-spoken, meticulous and still fit enough to shovel his walk, climb his roof to clean gutters and fight off a teenage mugger while walking his neighborhood, as he did a few years back.

“He’s a kindly man,” said a longtime church member and friend who took in Karkoc’s oldest son, Peter, when Karkoc first arrived in Minneapolis and struggled to get on his feet.

Semeniuk, who immigrated to the United States two years before Karkoc and said he did not know Karkoc in Ukraine, said the two men have become good friends over the decades, sharing coffee, sweets and small talk in the church hall after Sunday services.

“You get to know people,” Semeniuk said, his accent still thick after more than 60 years in Minneapolis. “I don’t believe he did something bad. … It doesn’t seem possible.”

But Karkoc’s next-door neighbor for more than a decade wonders whether the questions surrounding him can ever be answered.

“If it is true, and the atrocities and all that happened, who would tell anybody?” Gnasdoskey said. “I really believe nobody knows for sure except him.”

Up next

What comes next for Karkoc is uncertain.

Andrij Karkoc, who questions the authenticity of some of the documents used to link his father’s unit to the slaughter of civilians, said his family hopes to hire an immigration attorney to challenge the AP story, which he described as “a witch hunt.”

The Associated Press said ­Friday that it stands by its story.

While German and Polish officials investigate, officials with the U.S. Department of Justice won’t comment on whether they have begun their own probe into the Associated Press assertion that Karkoc lied to U.S. immigration officials when he said he hadn’t fought in World War II.

A researcher with the Simon Wiesenthal Center with knowledge of that postwar period said some immigrants with questionable backgrounds claimed Communist persecution to get into the United States.

If substantiated, Karkoc could lose his citizenship.

Even then, it could take years, with appeals, to deport him. In all likelihood, he probably wouldn’t live long enough to see the case resolved.

Over the past three decades, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, created in 1979 for the primary purpose of identifying and exposing Nazis or Nazi collaborators living in the United States, has won 107 of 137 civil suits aimed at stripping them of their U.S. citizenship.

But with the World War II generation rapidly dying off, the number of open cases has diminished so greatly that the office was folded into a broader investigative unit several years ago.

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  • Nadia and Michael Karkoc, wife and husband, taken in 1982, from a publication called “Survivors. Political Refugees in the Twin Cities.”

  • News crews outside Karkoc’s home in June.

  • When Michael Karkoc deserted from the German army, the Nazis retaliated by killing 12 people in his Ukrainian village. In 2002, his family said he paid for this memorial to them in Ukraine. His brother Peter is next to it.

  • Ronald Reagan is popular in Karkoc's home because of his strong anti-communist position.

  • In Michael's office hang the Declaration of Ukrainian Independence, left, a bust of famous Unrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and a U.S. flag.

  • Andrij Karkoc, who defends his father against charges that he was a war criminal and committed atrocities working with the Nazi SS, pointed out items in his parents’ home to show his father’s strong Ukrainian and U.S. ties.

  • memories of a homeland: In Michael Karkoc’s office hang the Declaration of Ukrainian Independence, left, a bust of famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and a U.S. flag. In the middle is a charcoal drawing of Ukrainian statesman Symon Petliura in his office. Ronald Reagan is popular in Karkoc’s home because of his strong anti-Communist credentials.

  • Michael Karkoc, right, pictured with his brother Peter, left, in an undated photo.

  • Michael Karkoc and wife, Nadia, in 1982.

  • Gordon Gnasdoskey, a longtime next-door neighbor of Michael Karkoc, would like to learn the truth about his neighbor’s past. But he also understands. “If it is true, and the atrocities and all that happened, who would tell anybody?”

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