Poland announced Monday that they will seek the arrest and extradition of a 98-year-old Minnesota man after prosecutors said they confirmed the man as a former Nazi commander that burned Polish villages and killed civilians in World War II.
Prosecutor Robert Janicki said after years of investigation, they have confirmed “100 percent” that U.S. citizen Michael Karkoc was a commander of a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion.
Karkoc’s family has repeatedly denied his involvement in any war crimes and have questioned the validity of the investigation. Four years ago, the Associated Press published a story saying that Karkoc commanded the unit, based on evidence such as wartime documents, a memoir and testimony from other unit members.
The initial investigation was shelved in 2015 when the German government determined he wasn’t fit to stand trial due to his Alzheimer’s disease.
“The Associated Press is peddling fake news,” Karkoc’s son, Andriy, told the Minneapolis StarTribune.
Andrij, maintains that his father fought against Nazis while a member of the Defense Legion underground movement.
“This is so offensive,” Karkoc said. “How in the world somebody fighting against Nazis then becomes a war criminal is beyond me.”
“There’s nothing in the historical record that indicates my father had any role whatsoever in any type of war crime activity,” Andriy Karkoc added.
Prosecutor Andrzej Pozorski said Karkoc would be given the opportunity to make his own claims against the accusations.
“This person has not been questioned in the capacity of a suspect so it is hard to react to his explanations, because we don’t know them,” Pozorski told the Associated Press.
Prosecutors of the state National Remembrance Institute have asked a regional court in Lublin, Poland, to issue an arrest warrant for Karkoc. If it was granted, Poland would seek extradition since the country does no allow a trial in absentia, Janicki said. If convicted, Karkoc could face a life-time prison sentence.
The AP investigation found that Karkoc entered the United States in 1949 by not mentioning his role as a a commander in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion.
A second report uncovered that Karkoc ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village and kill dozens of civilians.
The investigation turned up a file from the Ukrainian intelligence agency’s archive revealing a testimony from a private under the command of Karkoc that Karkoc ordered an assault on the village of Chlaniow in retaliation for the killing of an SS major who led the SS-led Legion.
Private Ivan Sharko and other soldiers who served under Karkoc supported the claims.
Based on testimony from eyewitnesses, the unit set fire to buildings in the village and killed more than 40 civilians, some of which were women and children.