The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 23, 2013

Survivors recall Nazi-led raid on Polish village

CHLANIOW, Poland — Henryka Jablonska's eyes well up as she recalls the moment more than six decades ago when a man in a dark uniform aimed a machine gun at her. He pulled the trigger but the weapon wouldn't fire.

She lived, but 44 fellow villagers were killed when troops of the Nazi SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion marched into this Polish farming community in July 1944 to exact revenge for an attack by resistance fighters that killed their German commander.

An Associated Press investigation revealed a commander of the unit that razed the village has been living in the United States since 1949, and survivors like Jablonska expressed bitterness that Michael Karkoc had a quiet life in Minnesota for all these years.

"What good is it now?" she said of the revelations. "He is 94 and has spent so many years in peace and surrounded by his family."

AP's evidence indicates Karkoc was in the area during the massacre at Chlaniow, and another one in the village of Pidhaitsi, currently in Ukraine — although no records link him directly to atrocities.

Jablonska's voice wavered as she recounted that day. The soldiers fanned out across the village, she said, shooting villagers, throwing grenades into buildings and torching homes filled with women and children.

A terrified 6-year-old, Jablonska stood in the dirt road with her parents and sister amid burning houses as the man in the dark uniform aimed at her a second time.

Again, the machine gun did not fire.

She heard others cry out "shoot them" in a foreign language she believes was Ukrainian — words she understood because it is similar to Polish. She watched, frozen with fear, as the soldier checked his gun and tried to shoot again. Another man in black came up and told his comrade to go away because he wanted to finish off Jablonska and her family himself. He then yelled at her father to follow him — but told Jablonska's mother to flee with her children. Hours later, her father was found dead in a cornfield with a gaping head wound and a stab wound in his chest. The bodies of two other men were nearby.

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