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Karkoc: His son said Thursday that the 95-year-old is an “innocent man.”

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Andrij Karkoc

GLEN STUBBE • Star Tribune file,

Germany can prosecute Minnesotan as Nazi ally

  • Article by: DAVID RISING
  • Associated Press
  • May 22, 2014 - 8:59 PM

– Germany’s highest criminal court has ruled that the country has jurisdiction in the case of a retired Minnesota carpenter who was exposed as a former commander in a Nazi SS-led unit.

The Federal Court of Justice said in its ruling published Thursday that 95-year-old Michael Karkoc’s service as a commander in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion made him the “holder of a German office.” This gives Germany the legal right to prosecute him even though he is not German, his alleged crimes were against non-Germans and they were not committed on German soil.

Someone in that role “served the purposes of the Nazi state’s worldview,” the court said.

No one answered the door Thursday at Karkoc’s house in northeast Minneapolis and his son, Andrij Karkoc, declined to speak immediately about the case against his father. He did e-mail the Star Tribune a statement criticizing the Associated Press coverage and insisting that Michael Karkoc never committed a crime.

“The Karkoc family welcomes any fair and impartial investigation of AP’s slanderous allegations against our father,” Andrij Karkoc said in his statement. “We also encourage and welcome any independent journalistic review of those charges.”

He questioned Germany’s highest court ruling that Germany has jurisdiction.

“It seems strange that a nation which planned, organized and executed the Holocaust can now claim the legal or moral right to judge someone who isn’t German, never hurt a German and never committed a crime on German (or Polish for that matter) soil,” Andrij Karkoc said. “Nonetheless, we welcome any efforts that will help expose the truth: that Michael Karkoc is an innocent man.”

A helpful neighbor

David Thornley, who has lived next door to the Karkocs for 10 years, said Michael “is definitely a good, cheerful neighbor and a nice, helpful guy.”

“What was happening in those times was really messy and really nasty,” Thornley said. “He just is not the sort of person to commit war crimes. If he was or not, I don’t know, but he’s not now and that’s what’s important. I can’t judge what happened back then.”

The court’s decision represented “a big step forward” in the case against Karkoc, said Thomas Will, deputy director of the special federal prosecutors’ office that investigates Nazi crimes. He initially handled the case in Germany.

Will referred the case to the court late last year after concluding in his own investigation that enough evidence existed to pursue murder charges against Karkoc, who has denied the allegations against him.

Will’s office has no powers to file charges itself, and the federal court in its ruling referred the case to Munich prosecutors. They will examine the evidence again to determine whether to charge Karkoc and seek his extradition from the United States.

The German investigation began after it was reported in 2013 that Karkoc commanded a unit accused of burning villages filled with women and children, then lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States a few years after World War II.

Placed at 1944 scene

Evidence also showed that Karkoc himself ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed, contradicting statements from his family that he was never at the scene.

Polish prosecutors also are investigating. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to confirm whether it also is investigating Karkoc, citing its policy of not confirming or denying individual investigations.

Karkoc applied for German citizenship on Feb. 14, 1940, according to Nazi documents signed by Karkoc and located in February in the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md.

Karkoc was 20 at the time, and his date of birth and hometown matched those on the documents.

Karkoc’s application was rejected because of his lack of German language skills. The SS-administered immigration office instead said it would provide Karkoc with passport-like papers identifying him as an ethnic German.

Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, applauded the decision. In a statement, he said the group “strongly encourages Germany to seek extradition of Karkoc so that the courts may carefully and fairly weigh the evidence against Karkoc for his alleged crimes.”

 

Staff writer Curt Brown contributed to this report.

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