Jan Karski (24 June, 1914 – 13 July, 2000), was a Polish World War II resistance fighter and scholar at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943 Karski reported to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the extermination camps.
Kozielewski completed his education between 1936 and 1938 in different diplomatic posts in Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and went on to join the Diplomatic Service. After a short period of scholarship, in January 1939 he started his work in the Polish ministry of foreign affairs. After the outbreak of World War II, Kozielewski was mobilized and served in a small artillery detachment in eastern Poland. Taken prisoner by the Red Army, he successfully concealed his true grade and, pretending to be an ordinary soldier, was handed over to the Germans during an exchange of Polish prisoners of war, in effect escaping the Katyn massacre.
After crossing into General Government (the German-held part of Poland) in November 1939 he managed to escape a train to a POW camp and found his way to Warsaw. There he joined the ZWZ, the first resistance movement in occupied Europe and a predecessor of the Home Army (AK). About that time he adopted a nom de guerre of Jan Karski, which later became his legal name. Other noms de guerre used by him during World War II included Witold, Piasecki, Kwaśniewski, Znamierowski, Kruszewski and Kucharski.
In January 1940 Karski started to organize courier missions with dispatches from the Polish underground to the Polish government in exile, then based in Paris. As a courier, Karski made several secret trips between France, Britain and Poland. During one such mission in July 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo in the Tatra mountains in Slovakia. Severely tortured, he was finally transported to a hospital in Nowy Sącz, from where he was smuggled out. After a short period of rehabilitation, he returned to active service in the Information and Propaganda Bureau of the Headquarters of the Home Army.
In the summer of 1942 Karski was chosen by Cyryl Ratajski, the Polish Government's Delegate at Home, to perform a secret mission to prime minister Władysław Sikorski in London. Karski was to contact Sikorski as well as various other Polish politicians and inform them about Nazi atrocities in occupied Poland. In order to gather evidence, Karski was twice smuggled by Jewish underground leaders into the Warsaw Ghetto for the purpose of showing him firsthand what was happening to the Polish Jews. Also, disguised as an Ukrainian camp guard, he visited what he thought was Bełżec death camp. (It is now believed that he actually saw a nearby "sorting camp".)
In 1942 Karski reported to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. He met with Polish politicians in exile including the prime minister, as well as members of political parties such as the PPS, SN, SP, SL, Jewish Bund and Poalej-Syjon. He also spoke to Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, and included a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met the then much known journalist Arthur Koestler. He then traveled to the United States and reported to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His report was a major factor in informing the West.
In July 1943, Karski again personally reported to Roosevelt about the situation in Poland. He also met with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, and Stephen Wise. Karski also presented his report to media, bishops of various denominations, members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without success. Many of those he spoke to did not believe him, or supposed that his testimony was much exaggerated or was propaganda from the Polish government in exile. It is possible, however, that Karski's descriptions influenced FDR to create the War Refugee Board several months later in January 1944.
In 1944 Karski published Story of a Secret State, in which he related his experiences in wartime Poland. The book was initially to be made into a film, but this never occurred. The book proved to be a major success, with more than 400,000 copies sold in the United States until the end of WWII.
His attempts at stopping the Holocaust were forgotten. It was not until 1978 that Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah re-discovered Karski's wartime service. In 1994, E. Thomas Wood and Stanisław M. Jankowski published Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust. After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, Karski's wartime role was officially acknowledged there. He received the Order of the White Eagle (the highest Polish civil decoration) and the Order Virtuti Militari (the highest military decoration awarded for bravery in combat). He was married in 1965 to Pola Nirenska, a Polish Jew whose family perished in the Holocaust. She committed suicide in 1992. Karski died in Washington, D.C. in 2000. They had no children.
It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did it. The allies considered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn't do it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland helped to save Jews. Now, every government and church says, "We tried to help the Jews," because they are ashamed, they want to keep their reputations. They didn't help, because six million Jews perished, but those in the government, in the churches they survived. No one did enough.
Statues honoring Karski have been placed in New York City at the corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue (renamed "Jan Karski Corner) and on the grounds of Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Georgetown University, Oregon State University, Baltimore Hebrew College, Hebrew College of America, Warsaw University, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, and University of Łódź all awarded him honorary doctorates.