Jan Karski

Jan Karski (June 24, 1914 – July 13 , 2000) was a member of the Resistance Poland in World War II and later academic at the University of Georgetown . In 1942 and 1943 , Karski reported to 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 death camps Nazis.


Jan Karski was born Jan Kozielewski on June 24, 1914, 1 in źódź , where he was educated as a Catholic, following in his life. 2 It grew up in a multicultural environment, where the majority of the population was in that Jewish time.

After graduating from a local school, Kozielewski joined the Jan Kazimierz University of L’viv (in today ‘s Ukraine ) and graduated from the Departments of Law and Diplomatic in 1935. During his military service he served as a warrant officer for School Officials Mounted Artillery Włodzimierz Wołyński . He completed his training between 1936 and 1938 in various 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. Made prisoner by the Red Army , managed to hide their true extent and, pretending to be a soldier, was handed over to the Germans during an exchange of prisoners of war , Poles, which was saved from the slaughter of Katyn .

Resistance during World War II

In November 1939, on a train to a camp of prisoners of war in the territory of the General Government (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). By that time it adopted the name of war Jan Karski, that later would become its legal name. Other war names he used during World War II were Piasecki, Kwaşniewski, 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 mail Karski made several secret trips between France, Great Britain and Poland. During one of these missions in July 1940 was arrested by the Gestapo in the mountains Tatra in Slovakia . After suffering serious tortures he was finally transferred to a hospital in Nowy Sącz , from where he was smuggled out. After a short period of rehabilitation he returned to active service in the Information and Propaganda Department of the General Quarters of the Interior Army .

In 1942 Karski was chosen by Cyryl Ratajski , the Delegate to the Interior of the Polish Government , to carry out a secret mission to the 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 introduced twice by clandestine Jewish leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto to show him firsthand what was happening with the Polish Jews. Also, disguised as Ukrainian guard of the camp, he visited what he thought was Belzec’s extermination camp . 3

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 clandestine on the extermination of the 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 from Foreign Minister Edward Raczynski entitled The mass extermination of Jews in Poland under German occupation , to the Governments of the United Nations on December 10, 1942, it would be published later with other documents in a booklet widely distributed. 4

Karski met Polish politicians in exile, including the Prime Minister, as well as members of parties such as PPS , SN , SP , SL , Jewish Brotherhood and Poalei Zion . He also spoke with Anthony Eden , the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and included a detailed account of what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met with the then very famous journalist Arthur Koestler . He then 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 again personally informed Roosevelt about the situation in Poland. During his meeting Roosevelt suddenly interrupted Karski’s exposition and inquired about the conditions that horses lived in occupied Poland. 5 6

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.” 7 Karski submitted its report to the media, the bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch ), members of the film industry and artists from Hollywood , but without success. In 1944 Karski published Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State , where he recounted his experiences in Poland during the war. The book was initially going to be taken to the movies, but this was never done. The book proved to be a major success, with more than 400,000 copies sold in the United States until the end of World War II.

Life in the United States

After the War Karski entered the United States and began his studies at Georgetown University , where he obtained a Doctorate in 1952. 8 In 1954 Karski became a United States citizen. 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 released after 1978, once the French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann gathered his testimony for Lanzmann’s film Shoah . The film was released in 1985 and, despite earlier promises, [ citation needed ] did not include mention of the role of informing the world Karski about the Holocaust. In his book on 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 aid 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 war award) and the Order Virtuti Militari (the highest military award for value in combat). He married in 1965 with dancer and choreographer 54 years Pola Nireńska , Polish Jew (whose entire family died in the Holocaust ) who committed suicide in 1992. Karski died in Washington, DC in 2000. They had no children.

In an interview with Hannah Rosen in 1995 Karski said of the failure to save the Jews from mass murder:

It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did. 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, ecclesiastical hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark and Holland helped to save Jews. Now all 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. No one did enough. Referring to Fig.

Acknowledgments / Legacy

To honor his efforts on behalf of the Jews of Poland Karski was named honorary citizen of Israel in 1994. On June 2, 1982 the Yad Vashem appointed Jan Karski as Righteous Among the Nations . 10 That same year in Jerusalem a tree was planted with his name in the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations .

In 1991 Karski was awarded the Wallenberg Medal of the University of Michigan . They have erected statues in honor of Karski in New York at the corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue (renamed Corner Jan Karski 11 ) and on the grounds of the University of Georgetown in Washington, DC 12 The Georgetown University , the University Oregon State , the Baltimore Hebrew College , the University of Warsaw , the University Maria Curie-Sklodowska , and the University of Łódź awarded Karski the honorary doctorate .

Remembrance of the mission of Karski

Poland’s Foreign Minister Władysław Bartoszewski in his speech on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on 27 January 2005 said: “The Polish Resistance movement continued to inform and alert the In the last quarter of 1942, thanks to the Polish emissary Jan Karski and his mission, and also by other means, the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States were well informed about what was happening at Auschwitz- Birkenau. ” 13


  1. Back to top↑ The wrong date of April 24, 1914 is sometimes mentioned, starting with the false documents of Karski of the time of the War
  2. Back to top↑ Self-identification by Karski on Yad Vashem’s website as “a Christian Jew” and “a practicing Catholic”
  3. Back to top↑ In his book published in the USA During the war, Karski himself identified the camp as Bełżec’s extermination camp even though he knew at the time that the camp could not have been in Bełżec. The descriptions he gave are incompatible with what is known today about Bełżec. His biographers Wood and Jankowski later suggested that where Karski had actually been rather the “classification field” of Izbica Lubelska . Many historians have accepted this theory, as did Karski himself.
  4. Back to top↑ www.projectinposterum.org
  5. Back to top↑ (in Polish) Waldemar Piasecki, interview with Elim Zborowski, President of the International Society for Yad Vashem and Vice-President of Światowa Federacja Żydów Polskich, Forum Polacy
  6. Back to top↑ Polish Daily News website
  7. Back to top↑ The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
  8. Return to top↑ Karski, J. Material Towards A Documentary History of the Fall of Eastern Europe (1938-1948) ; Ph.D. Dissertation 1952 for Georgetown University; Publication number AAT 0183534
  9. Back to top↑ «Interview with Jan Karski» . Accessed September 30, 2007 .
  10. Back to top↑ Yad Vashem recognizes Karski
  11. Back to top↑ “Statue salutes Polish man who warned FDR of Nazi camps” , New York Daily News , 12 November 2007
  12. Back to top↑ “Monument to Honor Dr. Jan Karski”, Polish-American Journal . 30 September 2002. vol 91; No. 9; Page 8
  13. Back to top↑ Address by former Polish Foreign Minister Wladysław Bartoszewski at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, 27 January 2005 , pp. 156-157