Ukrainians had a presence in Philadelphia when I was growing up in the 1950s, but my childhood friends were largely limited to Jewish kids. One was a bosom buddy on 9th Street in Logan, and his father was an oustpoken but highly educated immigrant who was not kindly disposed toward his Urkrainian neighbors, for reasons that escaped me at the time. He spoke of Ukrainian anti-semitism, and collaboration with the Nazis during WWII, but I hadn’t thought much about it until this AP Report hit the news wires today.
Michael Karkoc, now 94 years old and living in Minnesota, reportedly arrived in the U.S. through New York in 1950, concealing his military involvement during WWII. Apparently for good reason, if in fact he was commander of a dubious Ukrainian Self-Defense Unit that murdered innocent women and children in retaliation for the killing of a vaunted Nazi. An eye for an eye wasn’t good enough. It disturbed me to think of Ukrainians in this manner, given the high regard in which I held several Ukrainian-American mentors during my graduate school days.
Karkoc is quoted as saying: “I don’t think I can explain”, regarding his role in Nazi mass murder reprisal against civilians, including women and children. One wonders what it is that Mr. Karkoc can’t explain. Is it that he can’t explain why he lied about his former life? Or that he can’t explain why he engaged in such behavior in the prime of his life, snuffing out the future of so many innocent civilians. There are countless tales about the era surrounding WWII; the rationalization for genocide, if there truly is one, is that it was part of the zeitgeist. The silver lining of the drive to escape this brutality is that it helped fuel the state of Israel.
I received an email today right after reading the story about Mr. Karkoc that had a beautiful YouTube video embedded. The email reads:
“This performance is in honor of the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel. The gentleman introducing it is Lord Sachs, our rabbi at the Marble Arch Synagogue in London. He is an amazing human being – that is why he was bestowed with the title of “Lord” by the Queen of England. One of the three soloists is our Cantor/Rabfbi Lionel Rosenfield, an amazing tenor. The choir is composed of the men that sing in our synagogue, and the kids probably from the synagogue as well. We have had the privilege of hearing the choir during the High Holidays and it is amazing. Because it is Orthodox, there are no instruments used to accompany. The a cappella singing is great.”
I understand now Mr. Bach, all these years later, what I was not able to fully comprehend about your views. The admonition about your neighbors seemed over-the-top only because the threat seemed so distant. I failed to see the relevance, because your son Maury and I were playing in the comforts of your house and driveway on 9th Street far from the battlegrounds you left behind.
Maury and I sang together on the High Holy Days in an a cappella choir as children, in an Orthodox synagogue known as B’nai Israel. He now lives with his wife, children, and grandchildren in the State of Israel.