I am an Irish writer (see www.lismoreautobiography.co.uk) with an undying admiration for the most exceptional courage and probity of the late Professor Karski. I humbly offer these few lines in his honour.
(In memory of Jan Karski,
a hero of terrifying times)
I was a nuisance.
They couldn't see me.
They didn't want to see me.
They didn't want to hear
the message i was bringing
about the plight of the Jews.
Perhaps I had the wrong face -
my tortured look, my dolorous voice,
my sonorous Polish intonation,
my eyes brimming with the horror
of what I had seen, telling a story
no one wanted to believe, and yet,
one that was all too well accepted
in the power circles of the time.
They knew all right, but sent me away.
They didn't have time for my accounts -
the governments, the churches, the elites.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was not on their maps,
not on their moral compasses. 'What
about the condition of Polish horses?'
Roosevelt asked. I was such a nuisance!
I graduated from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1984 and had the opportunity of taking two classes in Modern Foreign Governments with Mr. Jan Karski. His classes where rich in anecdotes, experiences, reflections and theory which were insightful and inspirational to me over the years as a father, husband, businessman and Latin Americanist.
I remember one day, Mr. Karski was talking about his first military experience during the outbreak of World War II. His experience was a testament to the strength of the individual and is a lesson that I have always kept. He talked about how he, as a young lieutenant in the Polish Army, was deployed to meet the oncoming German invasion. As he told it, he was in charge of a cavalry unit and as he went up over the hill proudly mounted high on his horse, he saw in the distance a growing rumble of noise and dirt. As the noise grew loader and through the dirt, he was able to make out the incoming blitz of panzer tanks and Luftwaffe. Due to the very erect nature of his stance in the classroom, I have no doubt that he met the approaching wall of iron with dignity and will. Laughingly he told us that it was all over within hours. It was amazing to me that considering the tragedy of the moment and the years of horror as a POW, a member of the Polish underground and a witness to the Holocaust, he was able to find humor in this story. As I grew older, it became clear to me that this was a powerful lesson in the strength of the individual over something seemingly much greater.
Having taken courses in comparative politics with Mr. Karski, we studied multiple political systems. As he had lived in various countries during different time periods, he was able to talk first-hand about the political systems whether totalitarian, communist or democratic. My first class with him was when I was a sophomore and I was very impressed with his experiences in Venezuela. He had briefly lived in this Latin American country during the post-World War II period and held up this country as a testimony to the strength of the democratic system. Having suffered so much under totalitarian countries and seeing his beloved Poland lost after the war, he appreciated Venezuela and attributed it to the democratic ideals of the country. Due to this political system, Venezuela avoided much of the political and economic instability of its South American neighbors throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Since his classes, I went on to graduate from Georgetown University with a BSFS and a Certificate in Latin America. I also have a MA from UCLA in Latin American Studies and an MBA from Thunderbird. I have lived and worked in Latin America for the last twenty-five years. During this period, I have seen democracy grow in former military dictatorships and democracy flounder in Venezuela. He would be sad to see what happened in Venezuela since the turn of this century. However, democracy was his ideal not Venezuela. The individual is stronger than any system but it is up to the individual to band together collectively and continually fight, establish and preserve a democratic system whether within the family one is raising, the company that one works for or the country that one lives. Democracy is the only system that protects the individual and advances humanity, but the individual must learn to participate in the system.
I have not forgotten Mr. Karski. I read his book, STORY OF A SECRET STATE, and talked to many people who lived during the same times as he in an effort to better understand how a man, erect and proud, can survive, learn and then teach until the nineteen-eighties. He often said to us that we, the youth, were the future. As I enter the autumn of my own life, I am learning about the responsibility and difficulty of passing on this same message to today´s youth. Most people will never know how they influence others.
I hope that these few paragraphs are helpful in order to continue to celebrate the life and works of this man. Thank you. David James Drake
In London at a Georgetown University gathering, first-time reader Adelaida Palm testified to the book’s enduring and page-turning appeal. “I never knew anything about Poland or the Underground. Jan Karski has opened a whole new world for me. My admiration for the Polish people has risen tenfold. I must now visit Poland and walk in Karski's footsteps. The story of Karski and the bravery and experience of the Poles during the war has to be told."
Students who were introduced to Jan Karski in my semester-long Holocaust class realized that many people turned a blind eye to the situation of the Jews. They were inspired by Karski's decision to work to end the murder of innocent people and saw that his courage marked the course for the rest of his life. During a discussion at the end of the course on the role of righteous Gentiles, most students chose Jan Karski as one of the most significant among them. Highly recommended for the high school classroom.
I graduated from Georgetown in 1982. While I was there, I was privileged to have Jan Karski as a professor for several of my courses. As a professor, he made every class he taught somehow personal and alive (and he could be quite demanding in his expectations of his students), but as a human being who bore witness to inexplicable horror, his strength and courage were inspirational. He was a rock, yet also a sensitive and gentle soul, and I can remember sitting in his classes struck by something fragile and touching about him. He was one of those professors who touches your life in a way that you never quite forget.
Dr. Karski was one of my favorite professors at Georgetown between 1976-1979. He was a very humble man who, at least during our class, never shared his personal role in promoting the awareness of the Holocaust. I wish he had; yet without the knowledge that he was a true hero to all humanity, he was still one of my favorites and most memorable professors.
I believe I first heard of Mr. Karski on NPR's show All Things Considered. It was his obituary in 2000. I was fascinated by his story and wondered how it was that I had never heard of him before that time. I decided I would learn more but ended up forgetting about his story. Fast forward to 2012, I was living in Poland, and remembered the day I heard the radio show but I could not remember a name. I dug around online and eventually found Jan Karski and promptly picked up a copy of Story of a Secret State. I was excited to read the book but somehow it ended up lost on my bookshelf. That is, until my wife bumped into Wanda Urbanska at a bed and breakfast in Warsaw. I have now dusted off my copy and will soon start reading. Thank you Wanda for reminding us of his story!
Hello: I was a student in Jan Karski's SFS course "Modern Foreign Governments" in 1962-63. I got to know him well(in 1969-70 I was the one who convinced him to apply to join the then brand-new SFS core faculty). For about four years the two of us ate a meal together three or four nights a week in Sugars Campus Store. I have a host of wonderful memories. He was for over 35 years a loyal and active member of Delta Phi Epsilon Foreign Service Fraternity at GU (one of his last, if not his last, public appearances was a speech he gave at the Fraternity's annual Founders' Day Banquet). When I was in the US Army in Viet-Nam in 1966 he corresponded with me, an incredible boost to my morale. I have posted on my web site some of what he wrote me: http://www.deltaphiepsilon.net/Karski.html
I have two stories. The first, in my Junior year at Georgetown University Foreign Service School, 1961. Along with about 20 other students, I was in Dr. Karski's Comparative Government class. Someone asked him a question, something about Poland and WWII. Slowly he began to recount his experience, which led into his witnessing the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. He went on for maybe 10-15 minutes and spoke of the other atrocities he saw. He seemed almost to be transported back to that scene when he was there for the underground, 20 years earlier. After he finished, the class was dead quiet. The only sound was that of people breathing. As we walked out of the class, a fellow student turned to me and said: "Do you think that's really true?" I said: "How could you make up something like that?" The second story is much happier. It was August 1, 1979. My wife and I had just gotten married that morning. We were on our way to a celebration lunch at Nathans Restaurant, Wisconsin Ave & M St, just the two of us. As we walked down 33rd St. in Georgetown, from the other direction, came Dr.Karski, looking elegant in his gray, double-breasted suit. I hadn't seen him for 17 years. I reintroduced myself as one of his former students. I introduced my new wife, Beverly, a Polish-American, and told Dr. Karski that we had just gotten married. He tightly grasped our hands together and in that lovely accented English of his, he wished us the best in our married life together. That benediction couldn't have been better if it had come from the Pope himself. I never spoke with him again. But Bev and I are still married, 33 years later.
Karski's book was on one of many bookshelves in our home since my mother bought it in 1944, but I have to admit I had never read it. I only started reading the book a few weeks ago and I couldn't put it down. I was amazed at the bravery and resolve of Jan Karski and equally amazed that I had never heard of him. I am so happy to hear that your organization has brought his words and thoughts to the attention of today's generation. We should never forget what he observed and reported.