THE WAR THAT NEVER ENDS – All the senior figures have passed away over the years, only the rank and file, young at the time, might still be with us. The guns, for most part, fell silent in 1945, but some gunshots still echo through time, more than seven decades on.
Poland will seek the arrest and extradition of a Minnesota man exposed by The Associated Press as a former commander in an SS-led unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians in World War II, prosecutors said Monday.
Prosecutor Robert Janicki said evidence gathered over years of investigation into U.S. citizen Michael K. confirmed “100 percent” that he was a commander of a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion.
He did not release the last name, in line with Poland’s privacy laws, but the AP has identified the man as 98-year-old Michael Karkoc, from Minneapolis.
“All the pieces of evidence interwoven together allow us to say the person who lives in the U.S. is Michael K., who commanded the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion which carried out the pacification of Polish villages in the Lublin region,” Janicki said.
Stories like these remind us that there was another war – a war within a war, and a war after the war – as bitter and bloody as the main clash of armed titans but far less known in the West. Between 1943 and well into the late 1940s it took some million lives, mostly Polish, Ukrainian, Belorussian, the Balt, but also Serb and Croat. It wasn’t as much as a civil war as an ethnic war with political overtones. It was a war of revenge – for the past few years, and in some cases, for the past few hundred years – often stoked and encouraged by either (or both) the Germans and the Russians, but largely with a life of its own. Poles, Ukrainians and the people of the Baltic states fought against the Soviets, Poles and Ukrainians fought against each other over who would control Poland’s eastern Marches (Kresy, where my families originally come from), communist Serbs fought against fascist or simply anti-communist fellow Serbs and Croats.
The investigations in Germany and Poland began after AP’s story in June 2013, which established Karkoc was a commander of the unit and then lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States a few years after the war.
A second report uncovered evidence that Karkoc himself ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed, contradicting statements from his family that he was never at the scene…
Other eyewitness accounts, both from villagers and members of Karkoc’s unit, corroborated the testimony that the company set buildings on fire and gunned down more than 40 men, women and children.
The history of the Second World War is much darker than what you get from watching “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Band of Brothers”, as wonderful as these shows are. Most of us in the West with even a smattering of historical interest deep down understand that reality but we have not been sufficiently confronted by it. It’s a gap in the popular culture, perhaps too disturbing to fill.