An Associated Press report naming Michael Karkoc, a 94-year-old Ukranian immigrant in Minneapolis, as a former Nazi unit commander has set a series of events in motion.
Prosecutors in Poland, where Mr. Karkoc reportedly served during World War II, announced Friday that they would investigate Karkoc and give "every possible assistance" to the US Department of Justice, according to AP. The report added that German authorities were also looking into the allegations with an eye toward prosecution.
Though Karkoc served in two units that were on a US blacklist – the Ukranian Self-Defense Legion, which has been accused of burning villages full of women and children, and the Galician Division of the SS – he emigrated to the United States in 1949 by lying about his military service, AP reports. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1959.
Typically, immigration fraud has been a primary means for the US to strip ex-Nazis of their residency status and order them deported. Karkoc's alleged connection to two blacklisted units makes the case against him even stronger, say experts.
"In America this is a relatively easy case: If he was the commander of a unit that carried out atrocities, that's a no brainer," said Efraim Zuroff at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, which puts out an annual top 10 list of "most wanted" living Nazis, in the AP report. "Even in Germany ... if the guy was the commander of the unit, then even if they can't show he personally pulled the trigger, he bears responsibility."
Yet in America, deportation of former Nazis has proven difficult, in part because legal proceedings can last years and in part because, in some instances, no countries want to take the accused.
Take the case of Anton Geiser, a former Nazi concentration camp guard who became a steel worker north of Pittsburgh and lived in Pennsylvania for 50 years. In 2010, an immigration judge ordered the then-86-year-old man deported. But he appealed the ruling, saying he served at the Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen camps against his will at age 17. The case went to the highest immigration appeals court in the US.
"The label Nazi itself sort of goes to belief," his lawyer told the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Va., in 2012, according to a report by WJLA-TV. "If they were a true believer, we don't want them here. If they were a forced participant, are they really a Nazi?"
Mr. Geiser died before the court ruled.
Karkoc's case would appear to be more cut-and-dried. AP reports that he wrote a Ukranian-language memoir in 1995 in which he claimed to be a founding member of the Ukranian Self-Defense Legion. Like the SS's Galician Division, the legion was seen by many Ukranians as a nationalist group aimed at stemming Soviet influence in Ukraine.
Yet others with strong ties to wartime atrocities have seen their cases take years, as well. John (Ivan) Kalymon served voluntarily in the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police during World War II ans was found to have rounded up and shot Jews in German-occupied Lviv, Ukraine. Mr. Kalymon, who lived in Detroit, had his citizenship revoked in 2007 and was ordered deported in 2011. Earlier this year, at age 90, he lost an appeal of that decision.
No country has said it is willing to take him, though Germany is reportedly considering it.
Even abroad, the legal process for ex-Nazis can be tangled.
John Demjanjuk, who became an autoworker in Cleveland after World War II, was deported to Israel in 1981. In 1988, he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to be hanged – thought to be a vicious concentration camp guard, known as Ivan "The Terrible," who murdered thousands of Jews. The decision was overturned five years later when new evidence suggested a case of mistaken identity, and he returned to America.
But in 2009, he was deported again, this time to Germany, when new evidence connected him to being a guard at a different concentration camp. He was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to five years in prison. He died in 2012 at age 91 before the appeals process finished.
Karkoc's family has denied the truth of the AP report, with his youngest son calling it "sensationalistic and scandalous."