Jan Karski

Eastern European affairs scholar, author

Born Apr. 22, 1914, Lodz, Poland; came to U.S., 1943; son of Stefan Kozielewski and Walentyna (Burawska); married Pola (Nirenska)

Education: Master of Laws (LL.M.), Master of Arts (M.A.) (in diplomatic sciences), J. Kazimierz University, Lwow (Poland), 1935; Ph.D., Georgetown University, Washington (DC), 1952; doctor honoris causa, Georgetown University, Oregon State University, Baltimore Hebrew College, Warsaw University

Career: courier from Poland to British and American govemments, reported the situation on the extermination of Polish Jews, 1942-43; lecturer, sent by State Department to 16 countries in Asia and French speaking Africa, 1956-57, 1966-67; visiting prof., Columbia University, New York City, 1962-63; lecturer, Defense Intelligence School, Air University, Inter-American College, Industrial College

Author: Story of a Secret State, 1944; The Great Powers and Poland, 1919-1945 (From Versailles to Yalta), 1985; contributor to: New Catholic Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Americana, Collier's Encyclopedia; numerous articles in Polish and American journals and magazines

Honors: Order of Virtuti Militari (2 times), Polish Government in Exile, London (United Kingdom); Righteous Among the Nations award.; Honorary Citizen of Israel; Fulbright grant, 1974

Served with: Polish Army, September '39 Campaign; imprisoned by Red Army, escaped; Polish Home Army - Armia Krajowa (A.K.), courier between Polish Government in Exile and underground authorities in Poland, 1939-43

Affiliation: Independent. Roman Catholic

Languages: Polish, English, French, Spanish

Hobby: chess

From: "Who's Who in Polish America" 1st Edition 1996-1997, Boleslaw Wierzbianski editor; Bicentennial Publishing Corporation, New York, NY, 1996

Dr. Jan Karski -- "A Righteous Gentile"

Dr. Jan Karski was born in Poland where he received a Masters Degree (M.A.) in Law and a Master's Degree in Diplomatic Sciences at the Jan Kazimierz UniversIty at Lvov in 1935. After completing his education in Germany Switzerland, Great Britain in the years 1936-38, he entered Polish diplomatic service. Mobilized in August 1939. he was eventually taken prisoner by the Red Army and sent to a Russian camp.

He escaped in November 1939, returned to German occupied Poland and joined the anti-Nazi Underground organization. Because of his knowledge of languages and foreign countries, he was used as a courier between the government-in-exile and the Underground authorities in Poland. In this capacity he made several secret trips between France, Great Britain, and Poland during the war.

In June 1940. he was arrested by the Gestapo in Slovakia, but was eventually rescued by the Polish Underground. After a few months of medical treatment, he resumed his activities - as courier. The leaders of the Jewish underground smuggled Karski into the death camp ln Belzec and the Warsaw ghetto, so that he might become an eyewitness to the Holocaust.

In 1942-43, he reported to the Polish, British, and American governments on the situation in Poland and on the extermination of the Jews. In August of 1943, he personally reported to President Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, Henry Stimson. and other high government and civic leaders in the U.S.A. He refused to return to Poland after the war and made this country his home. In 1954, he became an American citizen. In 1952 he received his Ph.D. at Georgetown University and taught eastern European affairs, comparative government, and international affairs. In 1962-63, he taught at Columbia University as a Visiting Professor.

In 1956-57, and again in 1966-67, he was sent by the State Department on six-month lecture tours to sixteen countries in Asia and in French-speaking Africa. On numerous occasions he has been called upon by various Congressional committees to testify on Eastern European affairs. He lectured extensively at the Defense Intelligence School, Air University, Inter American College. and other government and civic organizations. His articles appeared in numerous magazines.

In 1974 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to inspect the Polish, British and French archives for his major work, "The Great Powers and Poland, 1919-1945 (From Versailles to Yalta)." He related his war experiences in the book. "Story of a Secret State," which became a Book-of-the Month selection.

Dr. Karski is a recipient of the highest Polish military decoration - the Order Virtuti Militari. California's Federation of the Jewish Association bestowed on him the title of "Righteous Gentile". In Jerusalem, a tree bearing his name has been planted in the Alley of the Righteous Among the Nations. Georgetown University awarded him a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa "for his magnificent demonstration of courage, generosity, and loyalty to Georgetown and country, and for his inspiring example of the tireless, truly dedicated teacher."

From: Wally West


Jan Karski, 86, Among the First To Tell World of Holocaust, Dies

by Martin Weil, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post, July 15, 2000

Jan Karski, 86, (1914 - 2000) a courier for the Polish underground during World War II who escaped from the Soviets; was tortured by the Nazis and survived to bring one of the first accounts of the Holocaust to the West, died July 13, 2000, at Georgetown University Hospital. He had heart and kidney ailments.

Mr. Karski, a Roman Catholic who made his way into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi death camp to be able to bear witness, was singled out for special honor by Israel as one of the non-Jews who tried to save the victims of Nazi persecution.

"Jan Karski was a hero... He sacrificed, saved lives and spoke the truth about the Holocaust," said the Rev. Leo J. 0'Donovan, president of Georgetown University, where Mr. Karski taught for many years after the war.

Mr. Karski, a man of aristocratic bearing who was fluent in four-languages and possessed a photographic memory, had joined the Polish diplomatic service one year before Germany invaded Poland in 1939, touching off World War II.

The circumstances that made him a witness to what had been to a great degree only rumor occurred in September 1942. He was, to be smuggled out of Poland to London, the headquarters of a Polish government in exile. Knowing that he was to leave, many people had messages for him to carry.

Among them, as Mr. Karski recounted in an interview with Ken Adelman in the July 1988 Washingtonian, were representatives of two Jewish underground organizations in Poland. They told him that Hitler had decided to destroy all the Jews.

Mr. Karski was advised that this message might carry more weight with the Allies if he could see for himself. He was told that he could be smuggled into the ghetto, and even into the Belzec death camp.

"As a courier," Mr. Karski told Adelman, "my job was to observe and report." And so he went. Entry into the ghetto, at a time when the original Jewish population of 450,000 had been reduced to 50,000 or 60,000, was not difficult, he said. For the concentration camp, he used a military uniform.

What he saw, he said, and what he later described in public lectures and published in a best-selling book, "Story of a Secret State," were "horrible things ... horrible, horrible things."

He reached London, and then Washington, where, he recalled, he met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 28, 1943.

More than 50 years after the Allied victory in World War II, controversy remains over how much was known in the West about the Holocaust, and whether the Allies could have done more to stop it.

"Maybe they did not believe, maybe they thought I was exaggerating," Mr. Karski said in a 1995 interview with the Associated Press. In that interview, he said he was told to carry the message back to Poland that "the Allies will win the war and that the criminals will be punished."

During his interview with Adelman, Mr. Karski said: "What do I know about strategy? [The Allies] won the war, didn't they? If it were not for this victory, all of Europe would be enslaved today."

Nevertheless, he said in the same interview, "The idea that Allied leaders did not know is nothing more than a myth."

Mr. Karski's identity became known, and he did not return to Nazi-occupied Poland. A vigorous anticommunist, he did not return to Poland until after communism fell in 1989. After that, he visited frequently and was much honored by the Polish government. Karski was a pseudonym, adopted for his war work, and he used it for the rest of his life. He was born in Lodz, Poland, one of eight children in a family whose last name was Kozielewski. He received a master's degree in law and a second such degree in diplomacy at a university in Lvov. In addition, he studied in Germany, Switzerland and Great Britain in the years before the war.

Shortly after the outbreak of war, Mr. Karski, who had been mobilized into the Polish army, was captured by the Soviets who had invaded from the east under a secret agreement with Nazi Germany. After escaping from Russia, he returned to Poland, joined the underground and began carrying messages to the West from his Nazi-occupied homeland.

After the war, he settled in the Washington area, received a doctorate from Georgetown and taught government there for nearly 40 years. He was a great teacher who "taught timeless lessons about freedom" and was an "inspiration to a generation of learners," 0'Donovan said.

Early in Mr. Karski's teaching career, according to biographer E. Thomas Wood, he expanded the range of his activities beyond the classroom to renovate and then rent older houses on Capitol Hill. Mr. Karski not only enjoyed the physical labor involved, Wood said, but also amused himself by reflecting on the degree to which it departed from the strict norms of the European academic world of his younger days.

For many years, Mr. Karski and his wife, Pola Nirenska, did not discuss his wartime experiences.

He said he took the position that "we have been successful in this blessed country. Reminiscences of the cruel past would not help us." Years after the war, he said, Elie Wiesel learned that he was alive and living here and insisted that he appear at a State Department conference. That, he said, made him retell his story. He was also interviewed for the Claude Lanzmann film about the Holocaust, "Shoah."

Asked in the Adelman interview, to account for the Holocaust, he answered: "I have no explanation .. ."

But he said he was speaking out so that the postwar generation should "realize where lack of tolerance, anti-Semitism, racism and hatred lead."

He told Adelman that he was old, and no longer strong. "I don't need courage anymore," he said. "So I teach compassion."

According to Wood, the author of "Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust," Mr. Karski married the daughter of a Latin American diplomat shortly after the war. That marriage was annulled, Wood said.

Nirenska died in 1992.