Holocaust exposer Jan Karski remembered on 105th anniversary of his birth

After joining the Polish resistance, Karski’s knowledge of foreign languages quickly saw him become an emissary between the Polish government in exile in London and the Home Army (Army Krajowa) in Poland. Hoover Institute Archive, Jan Karski Document Group

Jan Karski, real name Jan Kozielewski, was a Home Army (Armia Krajowa) resistance fighter, whose mission was to pass intelligence between the Polish government in exile in London and the underground troops remaining in the country.

In 1942, Karski crept twice into the Warsaw ghetto, after being smuggled in by members of the Jewish underground. Disguised as an Estonian camp guard he witnessed a transit camp for the Bełżec Concentration Camp in the town of Izbica Lubelska.

In the ghetto, Karski met with some of the Jewish leaders, in order to experience first-hand the horrors taking place in the ghettos. The Jewish leaders asked him to inform the world's statesmen of the desperate plight of Polish Jewry and of the hopelessness of their situation. Their message was: "Our entire people will be destroyed".

At the end of 1942, Karski was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto to experience first-hand the horrors taking place there. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-134-0780-38 / Cusian, Albert / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Karski vowed to carry the message and did exactly as he promised. From November 1942, he first contacted the Polish government in exile, then moved on to the then Foreign Minister Anthony Eden before traveling to the United States. In July 1943 he met with US President Franklin Roosevelt, asking the American President to act in order to stop the mass murder.

When Karski arrived in the West he began to expose the extermination of Jews to the world. Wikipedia

His role as what we would today call a Holocaust whistle-blower is what he is best remembered for, but his biography has a lot more to offer. From daring escapes from both the Red Army and Gestapo’s prison in Nowy Sącz, where he survived brutal torture, to his life in the US after the war (Karski couldn’t come back to Poland due to persecution by the Communist authorities), his story in one of unending patriotism and sacrifice for what he believed. 

In his report Karski wrote: 'The persecution of the Jews in Poland, which has been in progress from the very start of the German occupation, has taken on extremely acute forms since March 1942, when Himmler ordered the extermination of 50% of the Jewish population in the Government General… .'nationalarchives.gov.uk

Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Jan Karski Eudcational Foundation’s President, calls him a true moral compass. "The heritage of Jan Karski is a commitment to not look away when a weaker person gets hurt. A legacy that commands to put the wellbeing and interest of another person - different, even dirty, sick, debased - above our own. It orders substitution of egoism with empathy, fear with courage."

The Communist government's persecution of Polish underground members prevented Karski from returning to his homeland after the war. He instead settled in the United States and was later appointed Professor at Georgetown University.Andrzej Rybczyński

Jan Karski was recently commemorated by having a new square in Paris named after him. The decision was first made in 2015, as a result of a participatory budget and citizens’ voting. The revitalization of the square at the intersection of Cali, Louis Blanc and Philippe de Girard streets was from the beginning joint with naming the new green space after the Polish emissary.

Karski was recently commemorated by having a new square in Paris named after him. Ambassade de France en Pologne/Facebook

During the official opening on June 17th, Alexandra Cordebard, the Paris 10th arrondissement mayor, in which the square is located, called Karski's name "a symbol in the district that remembers the resistance movement and suffering of people who came here from Poland." 

She spoke of the "tragedy of the envoy of history," whose dedication was not enough to stop the tragedy.

To read more about Karski’s extraordinary life click here