The Associated Press has wrongly vilified my father, Michael Karkoc, along with Ukrainians and Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination during World War II. It has distorted history to publish sensational, false and inflammatory accusations against a defenseless 94-year-old. Seventy years after the events in question, and almost 65 years after his arrival in America, the AP has appointed itself my father’s prosecutor, judge and jury. Its “verdict” is a lurid accusation of “alleged war-crimes” against an innocent man.
Lemming-like, the Star Tribune has published and repeated AP’s distortions and innuendoes and has transformed my father on its front page into a “former SS officer.”
Ukraine was the bloodiest of all killing fields in the first half of the 20th century. Beginning with World War I, through the Russian Revolution, the Ukrainian War of Independence, the Soviet Communist Terror and ending with the bloodbath of World War II, no other nation has suffered more war and destruction. The death toll during that 30-year period is estimated at between 6 million and 8 million, and that doesn’t include the victims of the Ukrainian Holodomor in 1932-33 -- Stalin’s artificial-famine genocide that claimed another 5 million to 7 million innocent lives in Ukraine alone.
In 1921, after 300 years of serfdom under Russian czars and Polish kings, Ukraine was again divided between Polish and Russian imperialists. Michael Karkoc was born in 1919 in a small village in the province of Volyn’. Along with the neighboring province of Galicia, they form Ukraine’s western border. Both came under Polish control.
Nationally conscious Ukrainians were treated as second class citizens there, persecuted for their language, culture and Orthodox religion. My father was 14 when Stalin unleashed his murder by starvation on Ukraine’s peasants. Less than six years later, when Stalin invaded Poland under a “secret” agreement with Hitler, Volyn’ and Galicia were occupied by the Soviet army.
Stalin’s secret police immediately sprang into action with mass arrests, executions and deportations of Ukrainian nationalists, religious leaders and intellectuals, exterminating hundreds of thousands in less than two years. Within months of this “Soviet liberation,” having learned the secret police had issued a warrant for his arrest, Michael Karkoc fled into German-occupied Poland. Living there among other Ukrainian refugees, he was forcibly conscripted into the German army late in 1940.
In June 1941, the Germans invaded Ukraine. Of the original 4,000 soldiers with whom my father crossed the border into Ukraine, only seven men remained by the end of 1941. My father was one of those seven. During a trip to the city of Kharkiv, a chance meeting changed the course of his life. A Ukrainian family took him to the outskirts of the city where he witnessed the “unimaginable hell on earth” of a German camp for Soviet POWs. Soon after, he deserted from the German army and joined the Ukrainian nationalist underground.
When an informant told the Germans my father had joined the partisans, the Nazis, in reprisal, executed 12 innocent villagers in my father’s native town of Horodok and burned my grandfather’s homestead to the ground.
In 2002, a monument was built in Horodok, with a donation from my father, to honor those 12 victims of Nazi terror.
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Seventy years after those horrific events, the Associated Press “discovered” that Michael Karkoc is still alive and decided to publish its scandalous accusations.
AP obtained a declassified U.S. government document from the National Archives, describing a “secret” policy blacklisting members of the Waffen SS Galicia Division and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists from immigrating to the United States.
Well, it’s not a secret any more. That policy was based on a list of “inimicals” provided to the International Refugee Organization -- by the Soviet government! Under yet another “secret” policy agreed to at Yalta, the U.S. and British governments in 1946-47 forcibly repatriated almost 2 million former slave laborers, prisoners of war, partisans and other former Soviet citizens back to the Soviet Union and to their ultimate deaths in Stalin’s concentration camps.
In 1986, based on claims from the Wiesenthal Center that “217 SS Galicia Division war-criminals” were living in Canada, the Canadian Parliament created a Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals. In 1987, the Deschenes Commission completely exonerated the Waffen SS Galicia Division of participation in any war-crimes whatsoever.
In 2005, undeterred by these facts, Dr. Stephen Ankier claimed that “200 SS Galicia Division war-criminals” were living in Britain. Eight years later, in 2013, still “searching,” he miraculously found a brand-new (and still living!) SS Galicia Division “war-criminal” in Minnesota.
Ankier, a “retired clinical pharmacologist who took up Nazi war crimes research” -- previously known for making unfounded accusations only against Ukrainians in England -- is cited as single-handedly inspiring AP’s story. Based on a tip from this Wiesenthal wannabe, the Associated Press launched a frantic worldwide search for proof and, in a stunning development, found the alleged war criminal “hiding” in plain sight.
“It was not clear why Karkoc felt safe publishing his memoir,” AP wrote, “which is available at the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library and which AP located online in an electronic Ukrainian library.”
It isn’t clear? How about this? He did nothing wrong. He never lied. He’s not afraid of the truth.
AP searched for evidence on two continents. Reporters located documents in Polish archives, German archives and American archives. They contacted the Polish, German and U.S. governments even before their story was published. They found Soviet witnesses, German sources and Polish evidence.
And after all that international travel, after searching in all those dusty archives, after obtaining all those “secret” documents -- the Associated Press was forced to admit that “records do not show that Karkoc had a direct hand in war crimes …”!
Unfortunately, this inconvenient truth didn’t prevent AP from charging that “statements” and “documents” confirm “the company he commanded massacred civilians” and suggest that “Karkoc was at the scene of these atrocities.”
Which is it, Associated Press? It can’t be both.
Only one man, Teodozy Dak, was ever tried on such charges. In 1972, based on “witnesses,” “statements” and “evidence” produced by the Soviet government, Dak was convicted in a Polish communist court for his alleged war-crimes. But even if the credibility of that trial were unquestionable, it is entirely irrelevant. There is no record that Karkoc had a hand in any war crimes. His name has never appeared before. It did not appear at the Dak show trial in Poland 41 ago, and it has never appeared since -- until the accusations made by Associated Press.
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Germany, Italy, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Belgium, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Latvia and Lithuania all had Nazi-collaborationist governments or parties. Yet today, none of them warrant war-crime investigations or prosecutions. The German government even granted amnesty to convicted former Nazis living in East Germany at the time of German reunification. Apparently, there are no more war criminals available in the countries that perpetrated the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.
There was never a collaborationist government or party in Ukraine. There were only millions of the Nazis’ victims. My father wasn’t a “top-commander of Nazi-SS led unit.” He was a freedom fighter leading others who, like him, were willing to lay down their lives for freedom. He was a partisan guerrilla, an anti-Nazi and anti-Communist Ukrainian nationalist. According to AP, in Ukraine “such men are today largely seen as national heroes who fought for the country against the Soviet Union” and enjoy an “exalted status.”
Which is it, Associated Press? It can’t be both.
The only “evidence” AP uncovered about my father’s wartime activities comes from his own memoirs. In them he describes service in the German army, and talks about why and how he deserted. He describes his motivation and role in defending his native Ukraine by joining the Legion of Self-Defense. He describes his participation in negotiations to “collaborate” with the Germans while holding a live grenade in his coat pocket. He describes his travel to Warsaw and the armistice negotiated between the Legion and the Polish underground. He describes his journey at the end of the war, and the surrender by the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army to the U.S. military.
Most importantly, his memoir is dedicated to the memory of family, friends and fellow countrymen whose hopes for freedom and independence were destroyed, and who died during the horrors of war, from fratricide, or as sacrifices to the terror of Nazi and Communist occupation. It describes an incredible story of survival, death, life, luck, his faith in God, his devotion to family and his undying love for Ukraine.
My father is not a criminal, and never was. He is a hero, who by the grace of God managed to survive the unimaginable.
So far, the only thing Associated Press has “proved” is that everything Michael Karkoc wrote in his memoir is true. My father did nothing wrong. He never lied. And he’s not afraid of the truth.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Associated Press.
Andrij Karkoc lives in Minneapolis.