Nazis in the neighborhood: interacting with our history

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photo from Flickr user Beverly & Pack

It would appear that for the past 50 years, a former Nazi commander has been living in Northeast Minneapolis. The man, Michael Karkoc, is “blamed for burning villages filled with women and children”, and “lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States.” It is possible he will be tried, and if he is, only after deportation proceedings, which could take a “year to two years, probably.”

This knowledge has created an interesting debate: What should we do with Mr. Karkoc? He is now 94 years old. Should he be deported and tried for his alleged decades old monstrous crimes? Or, should he be left alone, a harmless old man now, 70 years removed from any atrocities that he may have committed?

Today’s Star Tribune features a letter arguing for leaving Karkoc alone. I wasn’t persuaded by the argument, though I wouldn’t presume to know the proper course of action in a case like this. While I was reading the piece, though, I had a curious realization: we are reaching the point in our history where this debate might never happen again.

Since the end of the Second World War, the search for perpetrators of Nazi crimes has been on. Former Nazis have been found living throughout the world, and with every identification comes a period of public involvement that brings us directly into contact with our history. Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the Great Wars of the 20th century, these things seem like ancient history. But they are not. This man, alive now and here in our community, is alleged to have been directly, personally involved in Nazi war crimes.

Whatever we do with Michael Karkoc, in Minnesota, in the US, in Europe, in deportation proceedings or not, we should take a minute to recognize the fact that we are now dealing directly with our history, reconciling today the horrible events that resulted in millions and millions of deaths 7 decades past and a continent away.

We have not escaped the history of our ancestors. Nor should we attempt to do so.

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80 responses to “Nazis in the neighborhood: interacting with our history

  1. Theres no point in wasting time and money on this. He is 94, it will take a couple of years to get deportation (96), then an appeal maybe, (97), then to europe for trial, (99). Unless this guy is going to live to 150 it will be worthless.

  2. My grandfather escaped the Holocaust; I have also stood on the remnants of the Gestapo headquarters and visited Mauthausen, along with other Holocaust related travels. Maybe it’s because of my family history or even my travels, but I say execute him. He is not harmless simply because he’s an old man now; he is still the same wretched human being today that he was during his time as a commander.

      • Exactly. Age has nothing to do with punishment. Look at Whitey Bulger: the guy is in his 80’s, yet he’s on trial for 19 murders, although others have testified the number is around 40. Is mid 80’s the cut-off date for being held responsible? I don’t think so.

        • Have you ever asked yourself what you would have done if you were German and drafted into the war and brainwashed into doing things that you did not want to do. His life was no more important or valuable than the people that he killed, but it was either follow orders or be shot, garroted, or hanged. It is not quite the same as a mobster who voluntarily became a criminal. The soldiers should have refused to commit these war crimes, but human nature makes most people give in to the evil of war. You have been told he is bad and you want him executed. What if they asked you to be the executioner? Do you really have it in you to kill him yourself? In his current state, week and defenseless, it might just take the courage of someone who is capable of burning a village.

        • One of the biggest myths of WWII is that soldiers who refused to kill children and women were punished. It is absolutely false when a massacre was made, if a soldier felt bad or talked to her boss for not doing so , he was away from the carnage. The killers of children, women, babies and families wanted it and they did it with much enthusiasm.
            Another issue is, effectively, the education of hatred of Jews imbued to the youngs by the regime but within a great historical anti-Semitic feeling in Germany.
             Germany is guilty, not only the Nazis.

    • If you do not remove the hatred from your heart it will ultimately consumer your own self. Many older generations of my family were persecuted by invaders from North. For centuries they had to run from one place to another, finally saving themselves in the secluded mountain region of Himalayas where it was difficult for the invaders to attack and also there was nothing left with them which they could plunder. But we are living with the descendants of those invaders peacefully now. In fact we have been so generous to give them half of our land (Pakistan) so that they let us live in peace.

      Let the old man die his natural death, forgive him, do not forget his/their crimes, always remember it so that it never happens again. But do not wish to execute him or put him in prison now that he is going to die his natural death. Be assured he will never get any peace, neither here nor in the other world after he dies.

      • While I completely agree that one cannot live in hatred, I can assure I do not. I am simply speaking on behalf of all those who unnecessarily perished without a voice; those who are buried in mass, unmarked graves of labor camps, or those who were sent to the crematorium, leaving absolutely no trace of their existence behind. My grandfather and your family members were lucky, to say the least, to be able to escape and carry on with their lives. Countless others did not have the same luck, and after a certain period of time, names were not even documented of those who were murdered or sent to camps due to overcrowding and “laziness” on behalf of the SS officers. I suggest, if you want a better idea as to WHY this man should be executed, reading ‘The Five Chimneys’ and ‘A Lucky Child,’ as both stories of people who escaped the Holocaust paint a very vivid picture of survival and suffering. I’m sure he doesn’t have to go through life hiding a neck tattoo that states his prisoner number, or even worse, have to wake-up wondering what it would be like if his mother made it out of the camp alive, all while remembering the look on her face as she screamed in horror while being sent to Birkenau. He found joy in forcing emaciating, diseased people to do heavy labor while starving and he was part of separating families and killing off “the weak” during selections. I do not and will not forgive his actions, and no one else should, either.

        • Well dear friend, there were hundreds of thousand people who didn’t even got an oven during the Indian struggle for freedom which continued for centuries, first against Muslim invaders and then against the Britishers. You are mistaken if you think Gandhi struggle was all that got India its freedom. Just look at the images of the Famine in Bengal at the fag end of British rule, it was no less than a genocide where 3 million people slowly died on the roadside in their homes and in dried up fields without food. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2031992,00.html

          I am sorry if my comments were not worded correctly. Hatred will never bring any closures. If it brings peace to those who are dead by executing a 90 year old please do so immediately. My only question is will it be sufficient? Where will it end?

    • I wholly agree with you, and the way I see it is that if someone murdered a family member of mine, and it took them, say 60 years to find the guy who did it, even if he has committed no crime since I would still want justice.

  3. No Justice, No Peace. I can only speak for myself but people like him no matter what age they are now should be brought to account for their criminal actions. He is not a regular brave German soldier, he is pure evil and caused death of innocent people leaving a mark on the image of Germany who will never be erased. I am as a German citizen feel ashamed for people like him. Therefore, do not close the your eyes only because he became a weak old man.

  4. leave them alone it been 50 years. they did no wrong in there eyes so that all who can judge them is themselves.

    one question though… what would you do if you had a gun tp your head.?

  5. Let those who would seek vengeance upon the body of a 90-year-old man execute themselves. Otherwise, you have no cause to harm him. He’ll be dead soon enough anyway. Do you really think it matters at this point were he to spend the last (probably no more than 7 or 8 years) in prison? Why not, instead, ask your own government why Project Paperclip was employed to begin with? Why the US chose to make a deal with the devil in their zeal to combat the Red Menace of the Soviet Union? Go read a little of Anthony Sutton’s books about the international bankers, who finance both sides playing them against one another, and you’ll come to understand who the real enemies are of humanity.

  6. A comment of a survivor of that time. They are living still ¡ The past is not so far like many would like for forget it.

    Dear friend,

    I was only 12 years old when the Nazis ransacked Jewish homes and buildings in my neighborhood on Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass.”

    They took my father away to Buchenwald. My mother, sister, and I didn’t know if we would ever see him again. Our front door was smashed, our books torn apart, our dishes shattered. And with my father gone, we were left to pick up the pieces.

    This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of that terrible night—and though decades have gone by, my memories of it have not faded.
    Susan Taube

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