Friday’s news out of Germany that his father won’t face further prosecution for alleged atrocities during World War II came as bittersweet to Andriy Karkoc.
He didn’t gloat when he received word that the German government had determined that his 96-year-old father, Michael Karkoc, isn’t fit to stand trial. The younger Karkoc has adamantly asserted his father’s innocence from his Minneapolis home since a 2013 Associated Press report that said he once commanded a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion that burned villages filled with women and children.
“We can’t exonerate him,” Andriy Karkoc said during an interview Friday at the gymnasium of a church in northeast Minneapolis. “And he can no longer defend himself.”
In Germany, Munich prosecutor Peter Preuss said his office’s decision was based on “comprehensive medical documentation” from U.S. doctors. The German investigation began after the AP reported that Karkoc was a commander in the unit and lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States after World War II.
A second report uncovered evidence that Karkoc 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. The stories were based on wartime documents, testimony from other members of the unit and Karkoc’s own Ukrainian-language memoir.
Paul Colford, vice president and director of media relations for AP, said Friday that “the Associated Press’ stories were solidly reported and well-documented. We stand by them.”
Michael Karkoc’s family has suffered incalculable pain over the reports, his son said, calling them “evil, fabricated, intolerable and malicious.”
The family wanted to sue AP, but Karkoc said his father couldn’t mount legal action because he has Alzheimer’s disease.
“I would like to get these people in a court of law to inflict the pain we have gone through,” he said.
The younger Karkoc, a 61-year-old mortgage banker, said he applauds the German government’s decision. He offered a detailed account of his father’s military career that countered allegations from the AP stories.
He chided AP for its use of KGB investigative files from the 1960s, and repeatedly said the news organization and the government never had any documentation or witnesses to link his father with war crimes. He said his father joined the underground movement of the Defense Legion to defend his country against the Nazis.
Karkoc also discussed a war trial in Poland involving a soldier from Michael Karkoc’s unit who was accused of killing several dozen people. His father’s name was never mentioned during the proceedings, and he was cleared by the Canadian government of any wrongdoing in 1987, he said.
“He never went into hiding,” Karkoc said. “He was active in his community and president of his parish.”
In 2002, Michael Karkoc helped fund and construct a monument in Ukraine in honor of 12 people from the Defense Legion who were killed by the Nazis after their underground activities were exposed, he said.
Germany’s investigation started in earnest last year, when its federal Court of Justice said Karkoc’s service in the Defense Legion made him the “holder of a German office.” That gave Germany the legal right to prosecute him even though he is not German, and his alleged crimes were against non-Germans and not committed on German soil.
“They made up a legal reason to go after him,” Karkoc said. “These are the people who [perpetrated] the Holocaust. They are trying to get rid of their guilt.”
Within the past few months, Karkoc said an interpreter, an official from the Department of Homeland Security and Eli Rosenbaum, a top official with the Department of Justice’s special prosecution unit, visited his father’s house in Minneapolis several times.
Michael Karkoc didn’t speak to them, but his son told the group they had no proof against his father.
Peter Carr, a spokesman with the Department of Justice, wouldn’t comment on the case Friday, but said his agency was aware of the allegations against Karkoc.
Several groups expressed disappointment Friday with Germany’s conclusion that Karkoc is unfit for trial.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for Minnesota and the Dakotas, said the Allied nations and ultimately Germany pledged to prosecute Nazi war criminals for as long as it took, consistent with due process.
“If the Germans believe Mr. Karkoc is medically unfit to stand trial, this will be a matter between Mr. Karkoc, his conscience and ultimately God,” he said.
Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, questioned why the Department of Justice didn’t initiate deportation proceedings against Karkoc after the AP reports.
“They should have been aware of his presence in the United States a long time ago, and if they were aware and did not take any action, that’s very unfortunate, and I would say atypical, but it’s obviously a failure,” he said by telephone to AP from Lithuania.
Andriy Karkoc said Friday that he would tell his father the news after they had dinner, and then they plan to take a vacation. In a sad sort of way, he said, his father “outkicked the coverage” by living so long. He has few friends, and the sponsor who helped him emigrate to the United States died two years at age 104.
When he learned his father was being prosecuted, “it was never in my wildest dreams that I could imagine it would happen,” Karkoc said. It’s been difficult for the family, he said.
“All our lives will go on,” he said. “But we will never be able to recover.”