Polish investigators will apply a new technique, to confirm the identity of the Ukrainian Waffen-SS officer Michael Karkoć, who is alleged to be responsible for the murder of dozens of Poles during World War II. Thanks to the joint efforts by Kresów.pl and British Holocaust researcher Dr. Stephen Ankier, Poland has a chance to obtain justice for the victims.
Kresy.pl made contact with and sought the cooperation of the British Holocaust researcher, a retired clinical pharmacologist, Dr. Stephen Ankier. It was he who tracked Karkoć down and publicised his case in the media. With the assembled evidence submitted to the Polish Institute of National Memory (IPN), as well as through the application of a new method of identification based on photographic analysis there is a good chance to finally confirm the identity of the alleged Ukrainian war criminal, Michael Karkoć, who has been living quietly in the United States for decades. Will it be possible to charge him and submit a request for his extradition?
Dr. Ankier identified and found Mychajo Karkoć while researching the 14 Waffen-SS Division “Galizien”. More than 8,000 members of this collaborationist Ukrainian formation came to Britain from Rimini prisoner of war camp in Italy after the end of World War II. Among them were several members of the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion (ULS) which was co-founded by Karkoć.
The ULS was a collaborationist unit, consisting of Ukrainian volunteers. It was created in 1943, officially as the 31. Schutzmannschafts-Bataillon der SD. The infamous Petro Diaczenko was its first commander. Karkoć served in the unit from the very beginning, using the pseudonym 'Wolf’ or 'Wołk’. The ULS was well equipped by the Germans and initially operated in Wolhynia, where they fought against communist partisans and the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa or AK). They also 'pacified’ Polish villages where civilians were killed.
In the summer of 1944, the ULS operated in the Lublin region – which is where crimes were committed and for which Karkoć is being investigated by the IPN. After Polish partisans killed the German ULS commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer Siegfried Assmuss, the then Ukrainian commander, col. Volodymyr Herasymenko gave the order to pacify Chłaniów village. 44 Polish residents of Chłaniów and in the neighbouring village of Władysławin, including children, were killed. Numerous sources confirm that these crimes were committed by the 2nd Company of ULS that was commanded by Karkoć.
In September 1944, Karkoć’s company along with most of the rest of the ULS fought in Czerniakow where they took part in the brutal 'pacification’ of this district during the Warsaw Uprising. Later Karkoć’s company fought AK forces in Kampinos. The Legion then fought in southern Poland, as well as in Slovenia, where it clashed with communist guerrillas. At the beginning of 1945 the ULS merged with the Waffen-SS 'Galizien’ Division. Karkoć received his last pay ULS salary in Kraków, during January of that year.
Mykhailo and Michael
After the war, Karkoć found his way to a displaced people camp in Neu Ulm, Germany. He decided to leave Europe for the United States. He applied for a visa, but he knew that the Americans would not admit SS soldiers. That’s when he lied to the American authorities, by stating that he did not perform military service throughout the entire war. Eventually Karkoć managed to get a visa and in 1949 he emigrated to the US. He resided in the Ukrainian district of Minneapolis, MN, where he worked as a carpenter. A few years later Karkoć became a US citizen. He is a long-time member of the Ukrainian National Association.
Before being able to charge Karkoć, the main obstacle for Polish prosecutors is identification. According to IPN documents, Mychajło Karkoć’s ULS tracks stop in Kraków in January 1945. It was not until four years later, that Michael Karkoc’s name appears in US documents. Based on the available evidence, Polish investigators decided to use specialised methods to make signature comparisons.
At the end of 2015, the Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Institute of National Remembrance asked the US Department of Justice to secure and send to Poland material to assist with the identification of Mychajo Karkoć. The Americans only sent documentation a few months ago that included copies of official documents relating to Michael Karkoć. However, experts of the Central Forensic Laboratory found the available material to be inconclusive. The problem is, that the material is written in Cyrillic text while scarcely provided comparative material exists in Latin text.
For this reason, the Polish experts asked for the original documents from the US. This proved to be impossible. Only digital copies have been provided which experts have found insufficient to give a definite opinion. IPN stresses, that in order to submit an extradition request to the US, there must be absolute certainty that the Michael Karkoc in Minneapolis is the Mykhailo Karkoć who was a Waffen-SS officer.
Photos to reveal the truth?
However, Dr. Ankier has suggested that there is another approach that can help to identify Karkoć – comparative photographic analysis that had not been considered by IPN investigators. Thanks to representations by Kresy.pl editor, Marek Trojan together with Dr. Ankier, this method has now been included into the IPN investigative process. Generally speaking, experts will analyse and compare wartime photos of “Mykhailo” with photos of “Michael” after the war. The key is a photo of Mykhailo Karkoc from his application for German citizenship dated February 1940. In addition, there are other generally available photos of Michael Karkoc, mainly from the 1980s and 1990s.
This method, known as 'anthroscopic photographic analysis’, will be used by experts from the Forensic Laboratory of the Police Headquarters in Lublin. We have been informed that the Lublin branch of Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes, have appointed experts who will analyse whether the progression of age will allow formal identification.
Unofficially, the experts believe that confident identification of a person based on photographs separated by over 40-year will be very difficult. Still, there is one, yet very important detail. According to our information, it would be possible to link the 1940 photo with a photograph of Karkoć and his brother. The latter’s dating is unknown, yet the importance lies elsewhere: it was published in the local Minneapolis newspaper Star Tribune – as having coming from the family archive of Michael Karkoć’s family and according to the description by his son, Andriy, it is his father in the picture.
While compiling Karkoć’s photos, Dr. Ankier noted some elements of his physiognomy which could be helpful in linking the images of the person from 1940 to those from later years. This refers to skin blemishes and moles that the British researcher suggests are distinctive and virtually visible on all photographs.
Memoir, medical experts and courts
In 1995 Karkoć published his memoir, in which he confirmed for the first time that he was an SS officer. However, he didn’t mention the massacres that were committed by his unit – although he acknowledges being with the unit during the times when they occurred. He also admitted, that he was a member of Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, belonging to Melnyk’s fraction.
In 2012, Dr. Ankier researched Michael Karkoc and found his memoir as well as his Minneapolis address. In the summer of 2013 an article about the Ukrainian was published by Associated Press journalists, who cooperated with Dr. Ankier on this matter. The investigation into his case was initiated by Germany and the Polish IPN.
Even in late 2013, it was reported that the US prosecutors, as in other similar cases, would almost certainly initiate proceedings against Karkoc to deprive him of his US citizenship. To this very day, this has not occurred. In addition, both the Polish and the German investigations appeared to have gone into limbo. Finally, in the summer of 2015, the Germans suspended the investigation. Why?
Officially, the primary reason was medical issues. According to the information that we were able to acquire, Michael Karkoc has a whole set of medical documents, which enable him to be excluded from participation in any legal process – especially abroad. For courts in the United States, medical opinions are very important. If a doctor says, that Karkoć cannot go anywhere, the court will almost certainly follow. It is for this reason, that the Germans discontinued the case in July 2015.
However, Dr. Ankier understands that Karkoc has never been independently examined and so this determination about his fitness for trial remains unconfirmed. Moreover, he noted that Karkoc’s attorney refused to allow him to be examined by a medical expert from Germany at a time when the Germans were investigating Karkoc’s wartime activities.
Dr. Ankier said that he remains mystified as to why the American Department of Justice has not declared any intention to pursue Michael Karkoc for alleged irregularities in his immigration and naturalisation applications. From information available over three years ago, it seems quite clear that in 1949 Karkoc lied to the American authorities by stating that he had not performed any military service during World War II, by failing to mention that he was the co-founder of and then commanded a company of the Nazi-led Ukrainian Self Defence Legion known to have committed massacres during 1944 and by not declaring that he joined the SS Galizien Division as an officer.
Indeed, the Americans have still not initiated any formal proceeding relating to Karkoc concealment of the fact, that he not only served in the Nazi army, but the he was actually a Waffen-SS officer. Theoretically, this should result in a review of his immigration and citizenship status. For all those years, American officials have apparently not shown any interested in the Ukrainian carpenter’s past – even after he admitted in his published memoir, that he was a ULS commander.
According to the IPN prosecutor, Dariusz Antoniak, who is supervising the case, there might be two reasons for this situation. Firstly, in US legislation there is no such term as crimes against humanity. This practically makes it impossible for the Americans to charge Karkoc for his crimes in Chłaniów and Władysławin. Secondly, giving false information in visa application involves at most initiation of administrative rather than criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, no one in the United States is pursuing this matter. Investigators must take into account, that even though Michael Karkoc admitted in his book that he served in the ULS, after being brought before the court he could deny it. He might even say, that in fact he is not Karkoć, but someone else, who stole Karkoć’s identity.
In his own detailed memoir that was published in the States during 1995, Michael Karkoc openly identified himself as being the Michael Karkoc who helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion. He has never denied that and even published his own photograph in the memoir that closely resembles a photo of the younger Michael Karkoc taken in Europe during the war. He also indicated that he was with his company in the summer of 1944 when the Legion’s German SS Commander, Major Siegfried Assmuss, was killed. If the man in the States is an imposter, and goodness knows why anyone would do such a thing in these circumstances, then from his own memoir, Michael Karkoc sure seems to knows an awful lot about what the real Michael Karkoc did during the war! Perhaps he thinks that he is a hero? – says Dr. Ankier.
Justice for the victims
Dr. Ankier explained that statements from men in Michael Karkoc’s unit, such as Aleksander Pisotskyj, Vasyl Malazhenski and Ivan Sharko and also documentation, confirm that the company that Karkoc commanded massacred civilians, including in the village of Korchunok and in the retaliatory massacre in Chłaniów following the death of Siegfried Assmuss. As such, it remains the 'real’ Michael Karkoc’s ultimate responsibility for any orders that he is reported to have given as well as for the actions of his men – according to the legal doctrine of „command responsibility”.
Dr. Ankier recalled that in 1972 Teodor Dak, one of Michael Karkoć’s direct subordinate in the ULS, was sentenced to 25-years imprisonment for war crimes. This is also important because Karkoć was the commander of Mychajlo Ostapenko of the ULS who was discovered living in the UK and confronted by Dr. Ankier in 2014. Without direct proof of criminality, Ostapenko could be regarded as a potential 'witness’ who might even be able and willing to help identify Karkoć from available photographs. For this purpose, Dr. Ankier suggested that the British police would almost certainly assist the Polish authorities if approached. Dr. Ankier also discovered and 'door stepped’ another of Karkoć’s ULS subordinates, Dmytro Wiazewycz (also known as 'Andrei’), who for years had lived peacefully in the UK without detection. Dr. Ankier said that he had provided the authorities with detailed dossiers on both Ostapenko and Wiazewycz but unfortunately Wiazewycz, who admitted being a member of the ULS, had died recently.
Speaking with Kresy.pl, Dr. Ankier suggested that if all lawful processes have been completed and assuming that the evidence is sufficient then Poland might still indict Karkoć and submit a request for his extradition. That would be an important signal to the world that even after over 70 years an alleged war criminal will still be pursued by the authorities. However, Dr. Ankier stressed that meanwhile time continues to pass relentlessly. The longer things continue to drift without a legal resolution, the older Michael Karkoc becomes and the less likely it will be that he will be fit enough to face his accusers. That slow process is itself an injustice. Eventually, the whole issue will be solved because Karkoc will have died. The assumption will be that he is innocent as he was never legally found guilty!
Realistically, it is unlikely that Karkoc will ever leave the States because, even if the Polish authorities make a request for his extradition, the matter will likely be stalled in the US courts for as long as necessary until Karkoc dies. Dr. Ankier stressed that the result will be that, without a full trial process, it will not be possible to legally recognise Karkoc as guilty. Nevertheless, if the Polish authorities officially declare that there is still an ongoing legal process against Michael Karkoc then perhaps people will feel that the very pursuit of justice has not stalled.
KRESY.PL/ Marek Trojan
Mychajło Karkoć in 1940. Photograph from his application for German citizenship. Source: AP / archives
Michael Karkoć (sic!) with his brother. Source: Star Tribune / Karkoc Family
Michael Kakoc (L) and Mychajło Karkoć (R). Source: AP / archive.
Dr. Stephen Ankier in his study is researching significant photographic evidence concerning Michael Karkoc from during and after the war. A photograph of Mychajlo Ostapenko appears to the right of PC monitor. Photo: courtesy S. Ankier.