Jan Karski, one of the most courageous observers and chroniclers of the Holocaust, died on 13 July 2000. Forced to live with personal experience of unspeakable tragedy, Karski carried the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the West. At his funeral in Washington DC, his casket was wrapped in the Polish and American flags and adorned with the Star of David.
In the summer of 1942 Karski, then a 28-year-old clandestine diplomat working in Warsaw for the Polish government- in-exile in London, was visited by two leaders of the Jewish underground who reported on the conditions of Jews in Warsaw. Shortly thereafter, Karski was smuggled into the Ghetto where he witnessed the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants.
What he saw during this and a subsequent visit to the Bełżec extermination camp affected him deeply, “This sin will haunt humanity until the end of time and I want it to be so,” Karski said. In the hopes of eliciting support for the plight of European Jews, Karski met with various Western leaders, including US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.
In an interview from the Claude Lanzmann film ‘Shoah’, Karski claimed that during a personal meeting that lasted more than an hour, Roosevelt showed absolutely no interest in the suffering of Jews in Poland.
In 1944 Karski published the first of his five books, ‘Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World’, an unflinching chronicle of his experiences during the War, Poland’s place in the world, and the destruction of Polish Jewry. After the war, Karski moved to the US , studying and then teaching at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He became a naturalised US citizen in 1954.
In 1994 Karski was made an honorary citizen of Israel, calling it one of the happiest moments of his life. Today, near the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, a tree bears Karski’s name, while in Warsaw, near the newly opened POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a statue of Karski smiles broadly in the museum’s direction.