A Hero to remember – Jan Karski – a brave courier who tried to stop the German Holocaust in occupied Poland

July 13, 2019

Watch the story of a resistance fighter who was the first to tell Allies of the Holocaust committed by Germans in the Warsaw ghetto during World War 2.

Jan Karski is another Pole, who risked his life to sneak past German guards into ghetto to expose how Germans were abusing and exterminating Jews. His life story was quite literally incredible. He was a young diplomat who worked as a courier for the Polish Underground resistance against the German occupation. In late 1940, after surviving a Soviet labour camp, Jan was captured by the German Nazis, but managed to escape.

Karski was the man who first smuggled news of the Holocaust to the West. In 1942, Jan personally delivered information of German atrocities committed against Jews in Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw to the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and a year later to the US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Describing the horrors he witnessed, he said: “This was not the world. It was not humanity, it was some hell”.

On 10th December 1942, Polish Foreign Minister Edward Raczyński handed the note to the signatory states of the United Nations Declaration with an appeal to stop the crimes committed against the Jewish population in German-occupied Poland. This appeal was called “Raczyński’s note”.

The West’s leaders didn’t believe and didn’t react.

Karski’s brave missions to Great Britain and the United States and his desperate attempts to warn government leaders and the public about the Holocaust caused a troubling question: “What did the international community know about the Jewish genocide?”

On 2 June 1982, Yad Vashem recognised Jan Karski as Righteous Among the Nations. Poles constitute the largest national group within the Righteous Among the Nations recognised by Yad Vashem. 26.793 people has been recognised so far. More than 25% of which were Polish. More can be read at the official Yad Vashem website. We need to remember that throughout the German occupation of Poland, many Poles risked their own lives – and the lives of their families – to rescue Jews from the Germans. To date, 6,863 Christian Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel, more than those of any other nation (to compare to Germany – just 616). Considering the harsh punishment that threatened rescuers, this is a most impressive number. Polish citizens were hampered by the most extreme conditions in all of German-occupied Europe. Occupied Poland was the only territory where the Germans decreed that any kind of help for Jews was punishable by death for the helper and their entire family. At least 50.000 Poles were executed by the Germans solely as a penalty for saving Jews.

Jan Karski 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 died 19 years ago, on 13th July 2000.

Author: NB/British Poles

Picture: Polish Embassy

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