An Associated Press report that 94-year-old Minneapolis retired construction worker Michael Karkoc was allegedly an officer in a Nazi-affiliated Ukrainian militia accused of war crimes during World War II has neighbors stunned and criminal justice agencies in Europe and the United States launching an investigation.
Many crimes are subject to a statute of limitation years after alleged commission given that reliable evidence may no longer be available, and that memories of witnesses fade with time. Some crimes are so heinous, however, that no time limit applies. There is, however, a big difference between a news media report and an adjudicated war crimes case.
The Associated Press is not of the habit of running scurrilous stories about alleged 94-year-old Nazi officers on the lam in Minnesota without a deep body of verified sources supporting the reportage. It has often been a press inquiry which prompted past prosecutions of notorious war criminals. The press informs, but courts try and convict.
The remaining war criminals on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Most Wanted list are either unverifiably dead, or in their nineties. In memory of the millions murdered, the Wiesenthal Center has long been the conscience of a world far too eager to forget.
In the war-fogged aftermath of history’s costliest conflict, too many culpable mass murderers escaped justice, particularly with the beginning of the Cold War. Many Nazi war criminals were handed severe sentences only to be later released after a few years of imprisonment. Still other culpable suspects were protected from justice due to their supposed technological or dubious intelligence value. Less than twenty years after the end of the war, we found that our governments had more parochial self-interests than punishing mass murderers. The murderers were painfully found to be living among us.
By the 1960s, authorities were down to hauling the odd concentration camp gefreiter (corporal) or Aufseherin (female concentration camp overseer) hiding out as a Long Island haüsfrau with an affinity for dogs before the dock for deportation and trial in Europe. It was not until the 1980 until Justice Department gumshoes and Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) would pursue Nazi war criminals at large with renewed vigor.
Many fugitives from justice, such as the notorious Auschwitz “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele, would be spirited out of Europe with the apparent collusion of sympathetic anti-Communist Vatican officials to a more hospitable South America until, in Mengele’s case, a natural death occurred off a Brazilian beach in 1979. U.S. intelligence organs would get earned black eyes after their post-war asset Gestapo “Butcher of Lyons,” Klaus Barbie was found in Bolivia by Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld and extradited back to France for trial and imprisonment until Barbie’s death.
In war crimes, one does not need to be proven the triggerman to be convicted. In the case unfolding against Mr. Karkoc, he was allegedly an officer in an anti-Soviet Ukrainian Self Defense Legion which was under Nazi control. Sufficient accounts apparently exist for a judicial investigation. His potential crime in the United States is falsifying immigration paperwork to evade inadmissibility due to his Nazi-related membership in his Ukrainian militia. If convicted, the sanction could be denaturalization and extradition for trial where his alleged war crimes were committed in Poland. No country has suffered as Poland endured.
The rationale for investigation and prosecution in this case is not the fear of recidivism in a 94 year old man who will likely never live to see trial. In a conflict full of war crimes which placed genocide into the vernacular, justice avoided is justice denied, for offenses civilization cannot bear to be repeated. The long, bumbling prosecution of former concentration camp guard and retired Cleveland auto worker John Demanjuk across three continents illustrates the necessity for a thorough investigation and competent prosecution.
The free press has done its job. It is time for government investigators and prosecutors to do theirs. The victims deserve nothing less.