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Righteous Among the Nations, Jan Karski Passes Away, 2000

On This Day in Jewish History: July 13, 2000


On this day, Polish Resistance Fighter and Righteous Among The Nations, Jan Karski, Passes Away at Age 86.


He was born Jan Kozielewski in Łódź, Poland on June 24, 1914. -He was raised Catholic and was one of several children.


When Karski was still young, his father passed away. Although a life-long Catholic, he grew up in a neighborhood that was majority Jewish. -Karski enrolled in military training in Włodzimierz Wołyński (then part of Poland). -After graduating first in his class in 1936, Karski was ordered to report to the 5th Regiment of Mounted Artillery. -Between 1935 and 1938 Karski finished his diplomatic apprenticeship. This was completed through partaking in posts in Romania, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. -From there he entered into the diplomatic service and began work in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs upon receiving the title of “First in Grand Diplomatic Practice” on January 1st, 1939.


In the weeks and months following the Polish September Campaign in which German forces invaded Poland, Karski found himself a Prisoner of War (POW) aboard a train headed for a POW camp located within Poland’s General Government Zone, a reference to the portion of the country’s region that had yet to be absorbed by Hitler’s Third Reich. ⁃ Karski managed to escape internment in the POW camp and find his way to Warsaw. ⁃ In Warsaw Karski took part in Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (SZP) which served as the first formal movement of resistance in German Occupied Europe. ⁃ It was around this time that his name changed from Kozielewski to Jan Karski. ⁃ January 1940, Karski started to lead courier missions which carried out dispatches coming from the Polish underground to the exiled Polish government, then stationed in Paris.


During the beginning of 1940 Karski began reporting to the governments in Britain, Poland and the United States of what was happening both in and to the Warsaw Ghetto and to the Jews of Poland. He began to acquire extensive information about the Jewish underground. -Karski was selected in 1942 to embark on a secretive mission to speak with Polish Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski by Cyryl Ratajski of the Polish Government Delegate’s Office. Karski was tasked with briefing high level officials about Nazi crimes in Poland and met with Leon Feiner of the Bund to acquire evidence. -Karski was secretly taken into the Warsaw Ghetto twice by the Jewish underground so he could see the atrocities with his own eyes.


Karski managed to get hold of Polish microfilm which, through evidence provided through the underground, documented the destruction of Polish Jewry at the hands of the Nazis. -It was through this microfilm that formed the basis for the earliest and equally accurate account of the Holocaust. It was Edward Raczyński, Polish Foreign Minister who transmitted this information in a note to Allied forces. The note, originally addressed to the participatory governments of the United Nations on December 10 1942, was included in a leaflet titled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. Karski travelled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt on July 28, 1943. He was the first eyewitness to communicate word of the Jewish Holocaust playing out in Poland. (This fact is disputed by the historian Adam Puławski who said that the Allies knew about the Holocaust at least 18 months prior to his meeting with Roosevelt). Roosevelt asked no questions about the Jews. He would go on to meet with many other important leaders and judges in the United States, non of whom appeared to comprehend the nature of the news.


Karski’s accounts helped lead to the formation of the War Refugee Board and, following the wars end, to the existence of The Office of High Commissioner for Refugees. Karski published a book recounting his experiences in Poland during World War II titled Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State in 1944. After the war Karski stayed in the United States where he earned a PhD from Georgetown University in 1952. He would go on to teach at Georgetown for 40 years. S


Karski married Pola Nireńska in 1965. A trained dancer and choreographer, her entire family, with the exception of her parents who emigrated to Israel in 1939 prior to the German invasion, was killed in the Holocaust. Nireńska died by her own hand in 1992. Karski did not speak about “wartime experience” until 1981 when, upon invitation from Elie Wiesel, he was present in Washington D.C. to serve as keynote speaker for the International Liberators Conference. The following year Karski was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among The Nations. He died on July 13, 2000 of unacknowledged complications from heart and kidney disease.


On January 27th 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Polish Foreign Minister Władysław Bartoszewski, delivered a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, "The Polish resistance movement kept informing and alerting the free world to the situation. 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 of the United States were well informed about what was going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau."


 

Sources:

Besson, Rémy (May 2011). "Le Rapport Karski. Une voix qui résonne comme une source (The Karski Report. A Voice with the Ring of Truth, translated by John Tittensour)". Études photographiques (27). Retrieved 16 August 2020.


Jan Karski (5 May 2011). Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World: My Report to the World. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 407ff. ISBN 978-0-14-196844-5.


Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland (10 December 1942). The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland (PDF). New York: Roy Publishers. Retrieved 19 June 2021.

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