Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Place Between

When news broke last month linking a ninety-four-year-old northeast Minneapolis man with a Nazi SS unit that committed atrocities in World War II, the local reaction was one of shock.

When it turned out that this man was the father of a colleague, it was even more shocking.

Now that the shock has worn off, it’s time to take a good hard look at the evidence presented in the original AP story and try as best possible to determine what it really proves.

This past Sunday, Andrij Karkoc (you say Andrij I say Andriy) took to the pages of the Star Tribune to offer a rebuttal to the claims made in the story. My father, Michael Karkoc, is not a war criminal:

The only “evidence” AP uncovered about my father’s wartime activities comes from his own memoirs. In them he describes service in the German army, and talks about why and how he deserted. He describes his motivation and role in defending his native Ukraine by joining the Legion of Self-Defense. He describes his participation in negotiations to “collaborate” with the Germans while holding a live grenade in his coat pocket. He describes his travel to Warsaw and the armistice negotiated between the Legion and the Polish underground. He describes his journey at the end of the war, and the surrender by the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army to the U.S. military.

Most importantly, his memoir is dedicated to the memory of family, friends and fellow countrymen whose hopes for freedom and independence were destroyed, and who died during the horrors of war, from fratricide, or as sacrifices to the terror of Nazi and Communist occupation. It describes an incredible story of survival, death, life, luck, his faith in God, his devotion to family and his undying love for Ukraine.

My father is not a criminal, and never was. He is a hero, who by the grace of God managed to survive the unimaginable.

So far, the only thing Associated Press has “proved” is that everything Michael Karkoc wrote in his memoir is true. My father did nothing wrong. He never lied. And he’s not afraid of the truth.

As Andrij notes in his piece, the Ukraine was in the “Bloodlands” during the Thirties and Forties. Like peoples in Poland, Belorussia, and the Baltic states, Ukrainians were caught between and fought over by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and suffered grievously as a result. Details on events during that time are not always clear and were (and are) often colored by perceptions. After the war ended, the Soviet Union and communist Poland would do anything they could to discredit Ukrainian nationalists so sifting through the layers of history to determine the truth is not an easy task.

This doesn’t mean that we should excuse war crimes committed during those terrible years. It does mean that before we accuse some of involvement in such crimes we should have evidence that is both substantial and well substantiated. In this case, that burden of proof doesn’t appear to have been yet met.