Last week the Associated Press released an investigation into the past of 94-year-old Michael Karkoc, living in NE Minneapolis, claiming that he was the leader of an SS-led Ukranian unit during World War II. While it seems that they could not find any proof that Karkoc himself directly committed any war crimes, according to the AP he was the leader of a unit that burned Jewish villages and their inhabitants. He then lied about his involvement in World War II when immigrating to the United States shortly after the war ended.
In case you missed it, read Rabbi Zalman Bendet’s fantastic reaction piece, published earlier this week, here.
This story certainly raises many challenging questions. Firstly, is it true? If so, how did he end up living in NE Minneapolis? How did his neighbors, friends, and family not know? Did they know? How did he avoid detection from Nazi hunters?
Statements from members of the Twin Cities Jewish community ranged from anger to disbelief to hope and remembrance.
“[W]ords fail to express how outraged we are to learn… that an alleged former Nazi SS commander could be hiding in plain sight in a community, which is also the home of so many Holocaust survivors and their liberators in the United States armed forces,” said Steve Hunegs, Executive Director of the JCRC.
“In our nearly 70 years of protecting and caring for Holocaust survivors locally, in Israel and in Europe, we never could have imagined that a former Nazi commander was quietly leading a normal life, just miles from our efforts,” reads part of the official statement from the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.
“Our hearts and prayers are with all those who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis. May their memories forever be a blessing,” said Rabbi Latz of Shir Tikvah.
Rabbi David Fredman of AISH Minnesota said this story is scary and unexpected, but ultimately a good reminder. “It reminds [us] that no matter how comfortable life can become, we are never to become too complacent to forget that real evil lurks in this world and it is up to each one of us to vanquish it first from our own hearts and then to overwhelm the bad with caring, kindness and love.”
“This news is no doubt shocking and the full truth will surely come to light soon,” said Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El. “More importantly, however, is if what appears to be true is indeed true, then we can all hope the light of Justice shines forth even brighter.”
We want to hear from you. Now that the dust has settled a bit, what has all this made you think about? What are you taking away from this story? React in the comments below or on Facebook.
* This post was updated to reflect the official statements of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, as well as Rabbi Olitzky of Beth El.