I was a student of Dr. Karski's in the mid-1960s. His "Theory and Practice of Communism" was one of the best courses I took at Georgetown. I can still recall him: ramrod straight at the head of the class, exuding a quiet authority without the slightest effort, lecturing flawlessly with scarcely a glance at notes. He never mentioned his wartime service but somehow I stumbled across a new paperback edition of his book and brought it up after class to get him sign it. He took one look at the cover, a slightly lurid one of a damsel in distress, and commented how annoyed he was that the publishers would cheapen the story. Nevertheless, he gladly inscribed it. I only with that I knew then just how great he was.
As a young man, I would see and hear the respected Jan Karski at the Polish American Congress meetings. From a distance, one could only admire such a devoted and brave man for all he did during World War II. On a personal note, my first face-to-face encounter was when we shared an elevator. It was, at first, an awkward moment, but then we spoke. This icebreaker moment showed me that this was a kind and very humble man for all that he accomplished. He was a true hero not only for Poland but for the world.
I grew up American and have acquired Polish citizenship as an adult. I could not be more proud, with Jan being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I have been interested in the Holocaust and WWII for nearly 25 years after first reading Don't Fence Me In by Barry Spanjaard, as an 8th grader in central California. I was awed when Mr. Spanjaard came to my middle school and spoke to our student body about his experiences and survival. Growing up I read and investigated every possible angle of the Holocaust and WWII. I have now been teaching for 15 years and have found a way to inorporate Holocaust and WWII studies into my teaching every year. I have had the opportunity on two occasions to travel both to Poland and Israel to visit the memorials at Majdanek, Auschwitz- Birkenau, Treblinka and Plashow as well as tour multiple other mueseums and memorials. I still find new insights, new facts and new heroes and the longer I study, the more questions I have. I have not come accross the story of Jan Korski until just now via word of mouth from a colleague whom I met in the course of my studies. I just finished reading the "About Korski" page of your website and am looking forward to finding out more of his story. I am already thinking of ways to incorporate his story into my teaching. Thank you for bringing another voice into the conversation in such a real and powerful way. I look forward to introducing Korski's story to my students as one who stood for what is right in a time where standing up could have been the last thing he ever did. There can never be a more important lesson for our students to hear and understand. Thank you.
My Mum gave me a book to read in my childhood when I found out about my Polish origins. It was “Story of a Secret State” by Jan Karski, published by Hodder & Stroughten in 1944, in English. It was not translated into Polish until after the fall of communism. I read that book at an early age and it is the passage about the death camp that was burned into my brain which remains there to this day. Holocaust deniers say it isn't true, but Karski saw something. In the 1980s there was the mammoth Holocaust documentary [“Shoah,” a French film made by Claude Lanzmann] and he appeared in that, recounting that same scene, in tears. Here's a man who suffers torture by extraction of his teeth and finger nails by the Nazis, and who tells Sikorski (when asked how he was) that his new teeth were giving a bit of bother.... I suspect my mum knew him, as she met my father at 'Room 17' as part of the British support of the Polish end of SOE. I was told I was conceived in Brindisi, from where he left in 1944 to parachute into Poland to help organise against the Russians, thus getting a price on his head from the Gestapo and the NKVD. I treasure that book, would never part with it, it will go to my grandson Daniel and his sister Sophia, who both look very Polish, especially Danny. Karski was my hero from childhood, long before his contribution became widely known. Member of the Polish Socialist Party I think, a man of liberal and tolerant instincts, an intellectual-turned-fighter, honoured as 'Righteous Amongst the Nations', who could not have him as an ideal to follow. I am the son of Bruno Nadolczak and Doris May Dangar (my DOB is 5.5.1945). Bruno was part of the Cichociemni. I knew about Bruno from age 10 but only met him when I was over 60, in the US. He died in 2010, and my 'Polish Mother' (his wife) died just recently. A link with information about my father is here: http://www.silive.com/obituaries/index.ssf/2010/09/bruno_nadolczak_97.html
Professor Karski and I had been talking about Polish poetry one afternoon, and then I was in a taxi with him, leaving Friendship Heights for the JCC in Rockville, when the news of her (Wislawa Szymborska's)Nobel came through. The driver was kind enough to turn up the radio report. Prof. K listened with great interest and offered a satisfied smile. He said he knew her work well. Karski could recite stanzas of Pan Tadeusz from memory for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, just by way of demonstrating how encyclopedic his memory was. How I wish I had kept a recording of one such recitation!
Here is a copy of what I submitted to the White House in support of Dr. Jan Karski's being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Sir/Madam: I recently learned that there is a movement afoot to recognize an American, and international, hero -- Dr. Jan Karski -- by awarding him (posthumously) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I can think of vanishingly few more deserving. His services and exploits stagger me. I had the privilege of having the good Doctor as an instructor when I was working on my Masters at Georgetown (technically, I was in the night-schedule program conducted in the Pentagon). He was inspirational...and when my wife gave me a copy of his WW-II book (“The Story of a Secret State"), I was awed. When he, at my best insistence and pleading, described his war-time experiences to our class, there was nary a sound -- we were spellbound and were comprised of military folks, most of whom had combat experience. When he reluctantly described his captivity and abuse at the hands of the Gestapo, and showed us his prisoner number tattoo...well, our hair was standing on end and there were few dry eyes. I could go on, but please note that this man is the only one I've ever asked for an autograph (in his book). Please review his non-fiction and the excellent biographies available on this giant among men. I request in the strongest manner possible that Dr. Karski be appropriately recognized by the awarding of Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thank you in advance.
I am a family member of a doctor (Jan Slowikowski) who organized Jan Karski's escape from Gestapo in Nowy Sacz.
My late husband, Marc P. Smith, playwright and theatre producer, wrote his last play in 2009. It's titled, simply "Karski" and presents the compelling story of Jan Karski's incredible efforts to report first-hand the horrors he witnessed both in the Warsaw ghetto and in a German death camp located inside Poland. Marc's familiarity with Jan Karski's story was not recent, however. Marc, born in 1934, read “Story of a Secret State” when it was first published in 1944--yes, as a 10 year old boy! He was, throughout his life, a voracious reader and collector of books, especially those telling the story of people who lived in Europe during the period of the 1930s and 1940s. The play, "Karski" has been performed in Massachusetts and in NYC (at the Kosciuszko Foundation, May 2010) as well as in Germany and Poland (in English). You may wish to see more information at www.thekreisauproject.com. Thank you to my own Congressman, Jim McGovern, who has signed on to support the posthumous awarding of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski.
I enjoyed a close relationship with Jan Karski during the years he taught at Georgetown University. He gave me good advice on how to negotiate with the Soviets when I was the United States Chief Strategic Arms Negotiator and Special Advisor on Arms Control to Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was especially interested in the contacts I made with Lech Walesa, Vaslov Havel, Boronislaw Geremek, Rita Klimowa, and dissidents in Czechoslovakia and Hungry. He was interested in President Reagan's support for Solidarity and my meetings with Pope John Paul II. Jan followed my fifty year struggle to return the remains of Ignacy Jan Paderewski to Poland. I was also in close touch with Kaya Ploss when she was putting together the Karski room at the Polish Center. He was a truly heroic figure who deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.