Naples, FL – Karski’s story has universal appeal and fascinates people of versatile national and cultural backgrounds. It is especially interesting to see the reaction of younger generations to this remarkable hero, as their knowledge of the history of WWII is often limited and/or stereotypical. Middle school students from Bonita Springs Charter School (Bonita Springs, FL) had an opportunity to learn about Karski’s life and mission and to deepen their understanding of the historical context, while viewing the exhibit The World Knew: Jan Karski’s Mission for Humanity at the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of Southwest Florida in Naples, FL.
A brief introduction by the Museum’s Education Assistant David Nelson, followed by the Walt Disney produced film Messenger from Hell, created a perfect prelude to the tour of the exhibition. The program concluded with a short questionnaire with the following three questions for students to answer: How could you model your life after Karski? What is the biggest lesson you learned from the Jan Karski exhibit? What three things were most remarkable about Jan Karski? Here is a selection of the answers, which show how inspiring this experience was.
How could you model your life after Karski?
“The biggest thing I learned was that it does not take a big person to do a big job. Just about anyone could take a big role in something important.”
“To stand up for what is right and what you believe in.”
“By being an upstander. When something is wrong in my community, I should stand up and say something.”
“I could model my life after Jan Karski by helping others in need and working to make a difference in the world.”
“His bravery and act of tremendous courage is inspiring […] you need to fight for change and others.”
“I can help people in need and just be kind and caring to everyone.”
“I could model my life after Jan Karski by following his bravery and help people no matter how hard and dangerous that can be.”
“I could try to become more humble by putting myself in other people’s shoes. Jan Karski thought of others before himself.”
“To be an upstander, not a bystander.”
“I think that if President FDR would have listened to Jan Karski, he would have been able to help a lot.”
“I would model my life after Jan Karski by being respectful, loyal, and brave just like he was.”
What is the biggest lesson you learned from the Jan Karski exhibit?
“I learned that even in the worst of situation it only takes one person to make a difference.” “That freedom isn’t something to be taken for granted and you should use the privilege to speak for others who don’t have the privilege.”
“I learned to always respect what I have and that I must always respect everyone.”
“I have learned to always try my best and stay determined when faced with a challenge.”
“No matter how hard things get, stay determined and do what is right.”
“The biggest lesson I learned was never give up. People might not always believe you or help you but never give up.”
“Try to spread goodness and peace to people I meet to make the world a better place.”
“I learned that some people went to great lengths to try and stop the Nazis and get justice for the Jews.”
“I learned to keep pushing forward in the dark times.”
“I learned that more than the Jews died.”
What three things were most remarkable about Jan Karski?
“The [things] he did for the Jews, even though he wasn’t Jewish.”
“He worked for the underground.”
“He managed to get inside a ghetto.”
“Managed to disguise himself and sneak through different countries.”
“He was very dedicated.”
“How hard-working he was.”
“How much effort he put in [his mission].”
“He would rather die than tell people the secrets.”
“He risked his life to save victims of the Holocaust.”
“After he had been caught and beaten, he still continued to help.”
“He actually met President Roosevelt.”
“When people did not believe him, he didn’t lose hope.”
Students also wrote general comments about the presentation, the movie and the exhibit itself – they found them informative and interesting, wanted to learn more about Karski, and expressed hope that future generations will remember Karski and will have a chance to learn his story.
See more about the opening of the exhibition at the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida here.
The tour of The World Knew: Jan Karski’s Mission for Humanity traveling exhibition is organized by the Jan Karski Educational Foundation. The exhibit was created by the Polish History Museum with a major support from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additional funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition publication do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.