January 25, 2001
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM HOSTS TRIBUTE FOR WORLD WAR II HERO
Jan Karski Honored at Washington DC Event
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will host a memorial tribute on Wednesday January 31, 2001 to the Polish-born hero, Professor Jan Karski, who was one of the first people to deliver eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to Allied leaders during the war.
A courier in the Polish underground, Professor Karski was smuggled in and out of the Warsaw ghetto and the transit camp at Izbica, where he witnessed for himself the horrors suffered by Jews under the Nazi occupation. In 1942, he traveled to London where he delivered a report to the Polish government-in-exile and senior British authorities. He described what he had witnessed in the ghetto and the camp and warned of Nazi Germany’s plans to murder European Jews. He then journeyed to the United States and met with President Roosevelt where he delivered the same message.
In all instances, his information was greeted with disbelief, apathy and indifference, which resulted in a reluctance to act on behalf of the victims. Karski was told that the military defeat of Germany was the Allies’ primary objective.
“Professor Jan Karski continued in every way possible after the war to work to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust would be learned,” said the chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Rabbi Irving Greenberg. “His heroism did not stop when the war ended. Goaded by the memory of the Holocaust, Karski - as have the survivors - continued to struggle for the sake of humanity for the rest of his life. The fact that he never quit and continued to work for reconciliation, for Polish-Jewish understanding, to prevent a recurrence of the Holocaust, does honor to the man. And so we honor his exploits and his memory.”
The memorial event, which is open to the public, will feature portions of a filmed interview Professor Karski gave 24 years ago and which has never been shown in public and recollections from a friend, Father Leo O’Donovan, President of Georgetown University.
Karski, a professor emeritus of Georgetown, died last July at 86 years of age. He was born Jan Kozielewski to a Roman Catholic family in Lodz. After completing his university studies, he joined the Polish diplomatic service. With the onset of war, he joined the army but was soon taken prisoner by the Soviets and sent to a detention camp in what is now the Ukraine, from which he escaped and joined the Polish underground. With his knowledge of geography and foreign languages and his near photographic memory, he became a resourceful courier, conveying secret information between the underground movement and the Polish government-in-exile.
His first successful mission was to the Polish government-in-exile in France in the spring of 1940. At the end of that year, while on a mission, he was captured by the Gestapo and brutally tortured. Fearing that under such duress he might reveal secrets to the Nazis, he slashed his wrists and was sent to hospital from which the underground helped him escape. After that, he infiltrated the Warsaw ghetto and the transit camp and traveled to London and Washington.
He remained in the United States where he promoted Polish causes and published his memoir. He refused to return to Communist Poland and earned a Ph.D from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and taught there until his retirement in 1984.
In addition to receiving the highest Polish civic and military decorations, Mr. Karski was made an honorary citizen of Israel and was awarded the distinction “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has hosted more than 15 million visitors since it opened in 1993, is the national institution for the documentation, study and interpretation of Holocaust history and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people who were murdered. The Museum’s primary mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about the unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.