Jan Karski, the Polish hero of the Second World War

Jan Karski lived in the German occupied Poland. He worked for the Polish Underground State and was its emissary. He risked death to carry messages to the West. Once German troops captured him, in spite of their brutal tortures he did not reveal the names of his colleagues. He managed to escape. In 1942 he was assigned with the task of visiting Warsaw Ghetto in order to prepare report to the Allies.

After having spent some days there witnessing the horrendous scenes in the streets of the Ghetto, he was able to get through the occupied Europe to the UK and then to the US. Jan Karski became the first man who in the middle of the Second World War provided the Western world with the first report on Holocaust committed by the Germans in the occupied Poland. Later on, in 1944, he described this in his book “Story of a Secret State”.

Thanks to his an eye-witness account the highest rank leaders of the UK and the USA, including British PM Anthony Eden and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were informed about the scale of the German atrocities and the sufferings of the Jews. He appealed to them and to the then Western opinion, in vain, to make all possible steps to stop the Holocaust but it never happened.

After the war Jan Karski remained in the US where he was lecturing contemporary politics at Georgetown University. He died in 2000.

He remains for us a symbol of compassion and solidarity with the victims of violence, hatred and totalitarianism.

As dr Robert Kostro, director of the Polish History Museum wrote in his essay: “Jan Karski builds a bridge between two fundamental realities of the WWII: the horrendous near-annihilation of the Jews and the dramatic, tragic and less known history of the occupied Poland…Jan Karski belongs to that sizable group of Polish Catholics actively involved in helping Polish Jews. …His eyewitness testimony stands as a rebuke to all those in occupied Poland, Europe, the United States and worldwide who showed indifference toward the Holocaust”.

He received the highest honor from his native country, Poland, being decorated with the Order of the White Eagle. Jan Karski was made an honorary citizen of Israel and in 1982 he planted a tree in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.

He was a man of conscience who risked his life to save others, a great Polish hero of the WWII.