Jan Karski was an eyewitness of the Holocaust1 who attempted to draw the attention of the United States and Britain to the slaughter of Polish Jews early in World War Two. Born Jan Kozielewski in 1914, Karski came from a working-class Catholic family from Lodz, Poland. He commenced a career with Poland’s diplomatic corps and, with the outbreak of World War Two, served as a cavalry officer.

Captured soon after Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union overran Poland in 1939, Karski escaped, changed his name and joined the Polish underground. As a member of Poland’s network of secret resistance organizations in World War Two, he became a courier, carrying strategic information from Poland to the Allied leaders and to the Polish government-in-exile in France and, later, London.

In 1942, Karski was approached by Jewish members of the underground to take the news of the extermination of Polish Jews to the West, where it seemed the Nazis’ anti-Semitic atrocities had received little attention. He was taken into the Warsaw Ghetto in disguise to see at first hand the dire situation of the Jews. Within a year, most of the 400,000 Jews held in the ghetto would perish in concentration camps.

He also entered Izbica transit camp, where he witnessed Jews being packed into railway wagons lined with corrosive quicklime. Karski was informed that after travelling some distance to an empty field, the train would come to a halt and wait a few days until all the victims were dead.

Horrified by what he had seen and heard, Karski travelled to Britain and the United States to urge their leaders to take every possible measure to prevent the slaughter of Polish Jews. He spoke with British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and U.S., President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking that they consider military strikes against railway lines used for transportation of Jews to the death camps. Karski’s pleas, however, were largely ignored.

There were also others who attempted to impress the Western Allies with accounts of Nazi atrocities. Like Karski, they too found that their reports were not acted upon or did not appear to be taken seriously.2

In 1944 Karski published an account of his experiences in the underground in his book, The Story of a Secret State.3 Distressed by the indifference of the Western powers to the plight of the Polish Jews, Karski fell silent. He accepted a position as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., developing a distinguished career in the School of Foreign Service. But in 1981 Karski broke his silence to speak passionately at the Concentration Camps Liberators Conference about the deadly indifference of the world to the Holocaust. In Karski’s own words in his address to the Conference: “ This sin will haunt humanity till the end of time.”

Karski has been recognized as one of the Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem and awarded honorary Israeli citizenship. In 1995 he was presented with Poland’s highest civilian honour, the Order of the White Eagle, by then-President, Lech Walesa. Karski died in 2000 but he was posthumously awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012. A biographical novel based on Karski’s experience as a courier for the underground was published in French by Yannick Haenel and is now available in English translation.4

The Jewish people survive. Their God and our God is faithful to His promises: “… though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee” ( Jer 31:11); “… for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zech 2:8). With the return of Christ, God will restore His people to favour once again, and “will get them praise and fame in every land.

References

  1. The main source for this article is: Daisy Sindelar, “ The man who warned the West about the Holocaust, at a time when no one would listen”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 21 June, 2014. [Online] URL: http://www.rferl.org/content/the-man-who-warned-the-west-about-the-holocaust-at-a-time-when-no-one-would-listen/25430245.html with additional information from “Jan Karski” in Wikipedia [Online] URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Karski
  2. See: Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died. London: Secker & Warburg, 1968.
  3. Re-published as: Story of a Secret State: my Report to the World. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2013.
  4. Yannick Haenel, The Messenger, translated from the French by Ian Monk. Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2011.