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Jan Karski (June 24, 1914 – July 13, 2000) was a member of the Polish Resistance in World War II and later an academic at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943 Karski informed the Polish Government in exile and the Western Allies about the situation during the Occupation of Poland (1939-1945), especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the secret of the Nazi extermination camps. < / p>
Jan Karski was born as Jan Kozielewski on June 24, 1914, in Łódź, where he was educated as a Catholic, continuing in his lifetime and growing up in a multicultural environment, where most of the population was at that time Jewish.
After graduating from a local school, Kozielewski joined the Jan Kazimierz University of Lviv (in present-day Ukraine) and graduated from the Departments of Law and Diplomatic in 1935. During his compulsory military service he served as a non-commissioned officer for the Officers of the School of Mounted Artillery in Włodzimierz Wołyński. He completed his training between 1936 and 1938 in different diplomatic posts in Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and joined the Diplomatic Corps. After a brief period in January 1939 he began his work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland. After the outbreak of World War II, Kozielewski was mobilized and served in a small artillery detachment in eastern Poland. Captured by the Red Army, he managed to conceal his true rank and, pretending to be a private, was handed over to the Germans during an exchange of Polish prisoners of war, thereby saving himself from the Katyn massacre.
Resistance during World War II
In November 1939, on a train to a prisoner of war camp in General Government territory (the part of Poland in German hands), Karski managed to escape and reach Warsaw. There he joined the ZWZ – the first resistance movement in occupied Europe and a precedent of the Interior Army (AK). At that time he adopted the name of war Jan Karski, which later became his legal name. Other names of war that he used during the Second World War were Piasecki, Kwaśniewski, Znamierowski, Kruszewski, Kucharski and Witold. In January 1940 Karski began to organize mail missions with messages from the Polish underground to the Polish Government in exile, then based in Paris. As a post Karski made several secret trips between France, Great Britain and Poland. During one of these missions in July 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo in the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. After suffering serious torture he was finally transferred to a hospital in Nowy Sącz, from where he was made to leave clandestinely. After a brief period of rehabilitation, he returned to active duty in the Information and Propaganda Department of the Headquarters of the Interior Army.
In 1942 Karski was chosen by Cyryl Ratajski, the Polish Government Interior Delegate, to carry out a secret mission to Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski in London. Karski had to contact Sikorski as well as some other Polish politicians and inform them about the Nazi atrocities in occupied Poland. To gather evidence, Karski was twice introduced by Jewish clandestine leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto to show him first-hand what was happening with the Polish Jews. Likewise, disguised as the Ukrainian guard of the camp, he visited what he thought was the Belzec death camp.
In 1942 Karski informed the Polish, British and United States governments about the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust in Poland. He had also brought from Poland a microfilm with more information from the underground on the extermination of European Jews in German-occupied Poland. The Polish Foreign Minister, Count Edward Raczyński, sent the allies on this basis one of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the Holocaust. A note by Foreign Minister Edward Raczynski entitled The mass extermination of Jews in Poland under German occupation, addressed to the United Nations Governments on December 10, 1942, would later be published together with other documents in a widely circulated pamphlet.
Karski met with Polish exile politicians, including the Prime Minister, as well as members of parties such as the PPS, SN, SP, SL, Jewish Brotherhood and Poalei Zion. He also spoke with Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, and included a detailed exposition of what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met with the then very famous journalist Arthur Koestler. Then he traveled to the United States and informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His report was an important factor in involving the West. In July 1943 Karski personally informed Roosevelt again about the situation in Poland. During their meeting Roosevelt suddenly interrupted the exhibition of Karski and asked about the conditions that the horses lived in occupied Poland.
Karski met with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan and Stephen Wise. Frankfurter, skeptical of Karski’s report, later said, “I did not say he was lying, I said I could not believe him, there is a difference.” Karski presented his report to the media, to bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch), members of the film industry and Hollywood artists, but without success. In 1944 Karski published Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State (“Messenger of Poland: the history of a secret state”), where he recounted his experiences in Poland during the war. The book was initially going to be taken to the cinema, but this was never done. The book turned out to be an important success, with more than 400,000 copies sold in the United States until the end of the Second World War.
Life in the United States
After the war Karski entered the United States and began his studies at Georgetown University, where he obtained a PhD in 1952. In 1954 Karski became a citizen of the United States. He taught at Georgetown University for 40 years in the areas of Eastern European Affairs, comparative issues of governmental and international affairs, becoming one of the most notable and recognized members of his Cloister. In 1985 he published his academic study The Great Powers and Poland (“The Great Powers and Poland”).
His attempts to stop the Holocaust were made public after 1978, when French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann collected his testimony for Lanzmann’s film Shoah. The film was broadcast in 1985 and, despite previous promises, [citation required] did not include mention of the role of Karski in informing the world about the Holocaust. In their book about Karski, Wood and Jankowski claim that Karski then wrote an article (published in English, French and Polish) entitled Shoah, a biased view of the Holocaust, where he demanded the production of another documentary showing the missing part of his testimony and the help given to the Jews by the Righteous among the Polish Nations. In 1994 E. Thomas Wood and Stanisław M. Jankowski published Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (“Karski: How a man tried to stop the Holocaust”).
After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989 the role of Karski in the period of the war was officially recognized there. He received the Order of the White Eagle (the highest Polish civil decoration) and the Order Virtuti Militari (the highest military decoration for valor in combat). He married in 1965 the 54-year-old dancer and choreographer Pola Nirenska, a Polish Jew (whose entire family died in the Holocaust) who committed suicide in 1992. Karski died in Washington, D.C. in 2000. They had no children.
In an interview with Hannah Rosen in 1995 Karski said about the failure to save the Jews from mass murder:
It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did it. The Allies considered it impossible and too costly to come to the rescue of the Jews, because they did not. Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands helped save Jews. Now all the governments and churches say “We try to help the Jews”, because they are ashamed and want to preserve their reputation. They did not help, because six million perished, but those who were in the governments and in the churches survived. Nobody did enough.
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