History is generally seen as a collection of dates, names and facts from the past – a perception historians have no small role in creating. But hidden behind these dry facts are tragic, touching and momentous events. To understand history is to understand dilemmas that we often face ourselves.
Jan Karski was the emissary of the Polish Underground State, a man who gave the Polish government-in-exile the first credible report about the annihilation of the Jews and the scale of this tragedy, which he based on his own observations and accounts he took from members of the Jewish community.
Karski reached the most important Allied leaders, including U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and tried to convince them to counter the German annihilation. Karski worked to raise public awareness abroad about the horrendous situation on the ground in occupied Poland; the determined efforts of the Polish Underground in occupied Poland; and the efforts of the Polish Underground State. The publication of Karski’s Story of a Secret State in 1944 represented a significant milestone and made a large splash. After the war, Karski stayed abroad, teaching at Georgetown University for many years.
Jan Karski's story is timeless and universal as it shows how to behave when one is confronted with evil. His life is proof positive of what to do in face of impossible challenges such as violence, totalitarianism and hatred.
Karski bridges one of the most important subjects of international discourse about contemporary history - World War II and the Holocaust - and the tragic history of occupied Poland.
His story is important for many reasons but most of all it demonstrates that you can be loyal to your homeland while rejecting hatred and totalitarian, nationalistic or racist ideologies.
It helps us address the complex subject of Polish-Jewish and Christian-Jewish relations during World War II. Jan Karski belongs to a significant group of Poles engaged in helping the Jews. At the same time his attitude is a condemnation of all those in Poland, Europe and the world who were indifferent toward the Holocaust.
Robert Kostro, Director of Polish History Museum