(Jan Kozielewski)Born in 1914 in Lodz.
During the years 1931-1936, he studied law and diplomacy at the Jan
Kazimierz University in Lwow, and then continued his studies at renowned
universities in England, Germany and Switzerland. He graduated from the
Artillery School in Wlodzimierz Wolynski with the rank of ensign. In
1939, he began working in the diplomatic corps.
During the September campaign in 1939, he was taken prisoner by the
Soviets. He managed to escape and made his way to Krakow, where he was
associated with the Central Committee of Independence Organizations,
which had been created at the initiative of General W. Sikorski. He was
then a member of the Union for Armed Struggle. One of his first missions
as courier was to Paris, where he gave the Polish government valuable
reports and evaluations of the situation. During his second mission,
because the borders had been sealed, and as the result of Slovak
collaboration, Karski was arrested by the Gestapo, then interrogated and
tortured. He tried to commit suicide in order to avoid divulging any
secrets. He was freed by a PPS squadron on orders from the commander of
the Union for Armed Struggle, Colonel Tadeusz Komorowski, known as
Beginning in May 1941, on orders from the Union for Armed Struggle's
headquarters, the Office of Information and Propaganda, Karski studied
the situation of the Jews and Polish-Jewish relations. He made contact
with Adolf Berman from the Jewish National Committee and with Leon
Fajner from the Bund. They enabled him to see the Warsaw ghetto for
himself in secret, and transmitted the shocking message to the world.
The Office of Information and Propaganda also received an alarming
report from the Home Army headquarters in Lublin of mass executions of
Jews in the newly opened Belzec camp. In mid-October 1942, Karski was
assigned the task of going to Belzec. He went to the camp dressed in the
uniform of an Estonian guard thanks to help from a guide. This action
lasted an hour, and Karski learned that the camp commandant was named
Gotlieb Hering and that exhaust fumes from engines taken from Soviet
tanks were being used to kill people. As he recalled years later, that
experience shocked him deeply.
Using false documents of a forced laborer working in France, he went
through France, the Pyrenees and Spain to Portugal, where he went by
boat to a British ship that took him to Gibraltar; from there, he went
to London. There, he told members of the Polish government, General W.
Sikorski and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, everything that he had learned, and
gave reports on the situation of the Jews, the genocide being carried
out, and the message from the Polish Jews to the world, a forty-page
report prepared by employees from the Office of Information and
Propaganda: Henryk Wolinski, Ludwik Widerszal and Stanislaw Herbst. The
message of the Polish Jews to the world also urged the Allies to
announce that "preventing the physical extermination of the Jews is one
of the Allies' war aims" and that the Third Reich would be bombed in
At the request of the Polish government, Karski gave all the
information in his possession to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of
Great Britain, Anthony Eden; the leader of the conservatives, Lord
Cranborne; the leader of the Labour Party, Arthur Greenwood; trade union
representatives; MPs and also leading intellectuals, including H. G.
Wells and Arthur Koestler. Without mentioning the name of the report's
author, Koestler presented its contents on the BBC. In 1943, together
with T. Mann and A. Tolstoy, he wrote The Fate of the Jews.
Karski's next mission was to see President
Roosevelt, whom he informed about the fate of the Jews and the Poles,
and about the heroic struggle that was being waged there every day.
According to a close colleague of the president, John Pehl, this meeting
prompted the formation of the War Refugee Board. In the United States,
Karski also met with the president of the American Jewish Congress,
Stephen Wise; a member of the World Jewish Congress, Nauchum Goldman;
and a Supreme Court judge, Felix Frankfurter.
On November 27, 1942, the London National Council, representing the
Polish government in exile, appealed to the Allies to act in unison
against genocide, including that being carried out against the Jewish
nation already underway. On December 10, 1942, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of the Polish government in exile issued a memorandum on that
same subject. On December 17, an announcement was made by twelve states
condemning the extermination of Jews and calling for the perpetrators to
be brought to justice after the Nazi tyranny was overthrown. Only
isolated heroic individuals provided Jews with concrete assistance.
Karski was shocked by the futility of his mission. Years later, he said:
"The Allied leadership knew what was happening to the Jews. They just
didn't know what to do. For them, it was a 'side-issue'".
Karski's mission, despite having been encrypted, was deciphered by
German intelligence, and Nazi propaganda announced that Karski was a
Bolshevik agent, paid by American Jews, who is defaming the policy of
the Third Reich in the USA. Soviet propaganda, through Soviet Russia
Today, published in English with Soviet funds and distributed in the
USA, described Karski as an aristocrat indifferent to the fate of
workers and peasants, an anti-Semite linked with Polish nationalists, a
provocateur attempting to undermine the Allies' efforts, and a
marionette in the hands of the London government. The publication warned
that he should not be trusted.
After Karski's mission ended, he was not able to return to Poland,
and was instead turned over to the Polish Embassy in the United States.
He wrote an account of the Polish underground state, Story of A Secret
State. (The first and only Polish edition was published in 1999: Tajne
Panstwo: Opowiesc o polskim podziemiu (Warsaw, Twoj Styl).
After the Second World War, Karski was unable to return to communist
Poland. He remained in the United States, where he continued his
research, taught East and Central European history at many leading
American universities, including Georgetown and Columbia, as well as in
sixteen Asian and Franocophone African countries, at the request of the
State Department. He took part in the editing of a Catholic
encyclopedia, as well as the Colliers Encyclopedia. In addition to being
a Fulbright scholar, he also wrote The Great Powers & Poland,
1919-1945: From Versailles to Yalta (1985). He received many honorary
doctorates, and was the subject of a book by T. E. Wood and S. Jankowski
titled Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (1994). On June
7, 1982, the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Karski the title Righteous
Among the Nations, and the State of Israel made him an honorary citizen.
Jan Karski died in the year 2000.