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Minnesota Nazi: Commander of SS unit lives in US after World War II (+video)

Minnesota Nazi: According to reports, Michael Karkoc was part of a Ukrainian self defense unit affiliated with the German Nazi SS and accused of committing war crimes. He has been living in Minnesota since the late 1940s.

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Villagers today blame the attack generically on "the Nazis" — something that experts say is not unusual in Ukraine because of the exalted status former Ukrainian nationalist troops enjoy.

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However, Pidhaitsi schoolteacher Galyna Sydorchuk told the AP that "there is a version" of the story in the village that the Ukrainian troops were involved in the December massacre.

"There were many in Pidhaitsi who were involved in the Self Defense Legion," she said. "But they obviously keep it secret."

Ivan Katchanovski, a Ukrainian political scientist who has done extensive research on the Self Defense Legion, said its members have been careful to cultivate the myth that their service to Nazi Germany was solely a fight against Soviet communism. But he said its actions — fighting partisans and reprisal attacks on civilians — tell a different story.

"Under the pretext of anti-partisan action they acted as a kind of police unit to suppress and kill or punish the local populations. This became their main mission," said Katchanovski, who went to high school in Pidhaitsi and now teaches at the University of Ottawa in Canada. "There is evidence of clashes with Polish partisans, but most of their clashes were small, and their most visible actions were mass killings of civilians."

There is evidence that the unit took part in the brutal suppression of the Warsaw Uprising, fighting the nationalist Polish Home Army as it sought to rid the city of its Nazi occupiers and take control of the city ahead of the advancing Soviet Army.

The uprising, which started in August 1944, was put down by the Nazis by the beginning of October in a house-to-house fight characterized by its ferocity.

The Self Defense Legion's exact role is not known, but Nazi documents indicate that Karkoc and his unit were there.

An SS payroll document, dated Oct. 12, 1944, says 10 members of the Self Defense Legion "fell while deployed to Warsaw" and more than 30 others were injured. Karkoc is listed as the highest-ranking commander of 2 Company — a lieutenant — on a pay sheet that also lists Dak as one of his officers.

Another Nazi accounting document uncovered by the AP in the Polish National Archives in Krakow lists Karkoc by name — including his rank, birthdate and hometown — as one of 219 "members of the S.M.d.S.-Batl 31 who were in Warsaw," using the German abbreviation for the Self Defense Legion.

In early 1945, the Self Defense Legion was integrated into the SS Galicia Division, and Karkoc said in his memoirs that he served as a deputy company commander until the end of the war.

Following the war, Karkoc ended up in a camp for displaced people in Neu Ulm, Germany, according to documents obtained from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The documents indicate that his wife died in 1948, a year before he and their two young boys — born in 1945 and 1946 — emigrated to the US

After he arrived in Minneapolis, he remarried and had four more children, the last born in 1966.

Karkoc told American officials he was a carpenter, and records indicate he worked for a nationwide construction company that has an office in Minneapolis.

A longtime member of the Ukrainian National Association, Karkoc has been closely involved in community affairs over the past decades and was identified in a 2002 article in a Ukrainian-American publication as a "longtime UNA activist."

The lights were on at Karkoc's home Friday morning, but nobody answered a knock from an AP reporter seeking reaction to this story.

Karkoc's next-door neighbor said has known the Ukrainian immigrant for many years, and was stunned to learn about the Nazi past of a man he has shared laughs with and known as a churchgoer.

"For me, this is a shock," said Gordon Gnasdoskey, 79. "To come to this country and take advantage of its freedoms all of these years, it blows my mind."

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