Jan Karski: The Man Who Tried to Stop the Holocaust

On the walking tour of Muranov (aka the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw), we learned about Jan Karski. His statue (above) sits outside the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw. I’d never heard of him before and I was slightly horrified at that because he’s known in history as “the man who tried to stop the Holocaust.” I mean, I’m Jewish and I even spent an entire semester studying the Holocaust during my senior year of high school. No one mentioned Karski.

He was raised in Lodz, Poland in a Catholic family. He was trained in the military and escaped being killed by both the Nazis and the Soviets numerous times during World War II. He discovered the atrocities of the Holocaust when he posed as a camp guard in Estonia and got inside the gates of Belzec death camp in Estonia. He posed as a civilian and was recruited to the Nazi army and reported news about the war to the Polish government that was currently operating in exile.

On July 28th, 1943, he met with Franklin D. Roosevelt himself and told him what was going on in German-occupied Poland. According to Wikipedia, FDR didn’t ask about how the Jews were doing; he asked how the horses in Poland were doing.

Karski published a book 1944 about what he witnessed called “Story of a Secret State” (you can buy it here). It was republished in 2013 by Georgetown University Press. There are a few of these statues of Karski around the world – one here in New York City, one at the University of Tel Aviv. Bill Clinton was one of his students at Georgetown, where he was a professor after the war.

Karski has too many accolades and accomplishments to list, but you can read about them over here.

Bonus: The corner of 37th and Madison in New York City is known as Jan Karski Corner, where the Polish General Consulate sits, as well as a statue of Karksi that’s almost identical to the other two that exist in Warsaw and Tel Aviv. 

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