Secret Nazi-hunter who tracks suspects from the shadows

For 20 years, Stephen Ankier has avoided publicity as he exposed alleged war criminals living in Britain. Now, he explains what motivates his quest


V Tucked away from the crowds in the back corner of a coffee shop, Stephen Ankier cuts an unassuming figure.But the man with the thick white hair is one of the country’s leading experts in the hunt for Second World War criminals now living in Britain. Not that he readily admits it.
“I normally shun publicity. I’m just an ordinary member of the community. I have turned down offers to be interviewed on television,” he explained, in an almost whispering voice.
So publicity shy is that he refuses to be photographed. But his record speaks for itself. Since starting his research around 20 years ago, he has identified and tracked down former Nazis and their collaborators dotted around Britain.
He is responsible for sending details of many others to prosecutors in countries including the United States and Germany.
One of his most notable finds came in June, when he tracked down octogenarian Mychajlo Ostapenko in Nelson, Lancashire.
Mr Ostapenko is believed to be a former member of the 31st Punitive Brigade, an SS-led unit made up mainly of Ukrainian nationalists that was thought to have conducted atrocities throughout Poland in 1944.
Dr Ankier scoffed at the suggestion his locating of Mr Ostapenko had followed a James Bond-style hunt for his suspect.
His research work is based firmly in a desire to uncover the truth about what happened during the war and to see that justice is done, however belatedly.
“My career was in scientific and medical research. That is key, as much of the process of finding these people has similarities to what I was trained to do,” the 74-year-old explained.
“My training in science was all about documenting the truth. That’s all I’m doing — presenting the truth to the police, to the media, for the purposes of informing people.”
Based in Edgware, north-west London, the researcher first became interested in the subject during the 1990s after a series of high-profile cases about suspected former SS officers thought to be living freely in Britain.
It was believed that as many as 8,000 members of the infamous Ukrainian division ended up in this country — via a prisoner of war camp in Rimini — after the war.
“I started looking around in archives in Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Israel, Poland and here in the UK. I went to some of the countries to examine documents,” Dr Ankier said.
“The Russians, Ukrainians and Yad Vashem were all very helpful. They provided lists of names and rosters. It’s difficult when you’re a private individual. I’m not associated with any organisation, everything that I do is voluntary, at my own expense and I do not accept fees or expenses from the media.”
Partly assisted by his then MP, Andrew Dismore, Dr Ankier began trawling through lists of former concentration camp guards.
In Hampshire he found Alexander Huryn, who had worked at Trawniki in Poland, and one of his most significant discoveries was former Punitive Brigade officer Michael Karkoc, who he found living in Minnesota in the United States.
“The police knew all about Huryn, but here’s the problem,” Dr Ankier explained. “He didn’t deny he was a guard at the camp. But he said: ‘I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t do anything wrong, I’ve lived a blameless life since I came to the UK, I’m just an old man’.
“He had been an armed guard on one side of the barbed wire while on the other side people were being murdered. I’m trying to be really open-minded. Maybe he didn’t do anything ‘wrong’.”
The investigator repeatedly points out that he is not on a witch-hunt: “I’m not judge and jury. I’m not on a crusade. I give them a fair chance.”
But when painstaking hours of solitary research turn up blanks, or prosecutors cannot act, how does the Mill Hill United Synagogue member deal with the setbacks?
“There are great highs and lows. There are dead ends. It doesn’t knock me back though.
“I tell my close friends what I’m doing and my wife is very supportive. However, my children probably think I’m a little bit ‘eccentric’ because, unfortunately, they can’t relate to the subject.
“This is a generational issue, which is why I am a passionate supporter of the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
“The pay-off is finding suspects alive. It’s like having a sudden insight into a problem when doing scientific research.
“Finding a suspect alive who may have been a murderer is not something to celebrate, but there’s a great sense of satisfaction in having done something significant.”
And with a knowing smile he concluded: “There could very well be more to come.” -

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