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.
The State of North Carolina has a Holocaust commission, as do many political entities in the United States, known here as the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust. On April 22, 1990, this Council sponsored a visit and address by Jan Karski, one of the three most famous Polish couriers who brought out information on conditions in Nazi-occupied Polish lands during World War II. (The other two were Jerzy [George] Lerski and Jan Nowak-Jezioranski.) The meeting and address took place in the Convention Center of the North Raleigh Hilton hotel on Old Wake Forest Road just north of the Beltline. The commemoration was organized by Larry Rudner, a professor of English at North Carolina State University, who died--quite young--in 1995. The room was fairly large and some 400 were in attendance. The program was a fairly standard commemorative effort, with several clergy of various faiths taking part, an appearance by a ranking representative of State government and the mayor of Raleigh, and the Enloe High School choir and band. But the most important part of the commemoration was the appearance of Jan Karski. He was not a large or tall man but rather slight and reserved. Perhaps this ability to avoid immediate notice served him well in his entries and exits from occupied Polish lands. But he did have presence, a definite bearing, which would leave a lasting impression on anyone who met him. Aristocratic, one might say, but not of the arrogant variety-- rather of being completely at home in his mind and circumstances in life, self-possessed. At one point, he mentioned the difficulties he had in getting anyone to believe his story in Great Britain and the United States, such men as Roosevelt and Frankfurter here, when he brought out his reports in 1943. This caused him to write the book "Story of a Secret State" which appeared in 1944. At the mention of this book, several people in the audience seemed never to have heard of it and wanted to know the title. I was surprised; Jan Karski was surprised. After all, this was a group which was supposed to be uncommonly aware of the events and the reporting of them. The Polish London Government had been publishing items on atrocities since 1940, and Karski's book was put out in very large numbers in 1944. How not to know of its existence in 1990 . . . ? Karski seemed to be at a bit of a loss as to what to say; he hadn't thought it necessary to bring a copy of the book with him, so that he could show that it really existed. But I had brought my copy, purchased down somewhere along 4th Avenue in Lower Manhattan while a student at Columbia University--those bookshops are now all gone, save The Strand. It cost a single dollar for a rather impecunious student on March 20, 1968. I don't know why I wrote a date in it--some premonition, perhaps. So, to quiet the doubts, which were palpable in the audience, I simply held my copy aloft, over my head with a full-arm extension, slowly rotating it so that its face could be seen from every angle. Karski noted it by an outstretched hand and went on with his presentation, quietly and without fanfare. At the close of the commemoration I went up with my book to seek out his signature. He was surrounded by a moderate crowd but took my book and gave it his signature, my red ink on the white paper of his title page, just below his own printed name. I remember being somewhat disappointed that he didn't write some additional salutation, but lately I have come to the conclusion that this small recognition of a kindred soul, albeit far removed in time and place from the experiences described, was worth far more than some extended comment. Oddly enough, during this time no one asked to take a look at the book. I do not lend this book. If you wish to see it, come to my house.
I was so impressed with Jan Karski's story and amazed that no one had heard of him. Years went by and in 1995 I stumbled upon a local garage sale and there what caught my eye was the 1944 original copy of his book "Story of a SECRET STATE"! I bough it, read it and sent it to him to sign. I cherish this signed in 1996 book and it is in finest condition. While I am alive it will be cherished but who know after I'm gone? Will more Americans know of his courage, daring and truthfulness? I would hope so.
Dr. Karski's dedication to promoting human freedom and dignity was inspirational. Of all my professors at Georgetown, he clearly had the greatest impact on my life and career. It is vital that his legacy endures to help us avoid the horrible mistakes of the past.
I learned about Jan Karski through an institute for Catholic school teachers coordinated by the Anti-Defamation League and supported by the Archdiocese of Washington. Not only did Jan Karski act courageously during the War, but after he became a living embodiment of peace through his teaching, diplomacy, public speaking, publishing, and probably most of all his friendships. After visiting the Jan Karski collection at the Hoover Institution archives last summer, I had the privilege of reading letters to and from Jan Karski. I was struck by the humility and kindness in his own writing and the incredible outpouring of affection shown to him through the many letters and cards sent by friends, colleagues, and even strangers. Jan Karski has captured my imagination and lifted my spirit. With the assistance of one of his dear friends, I was able to create an exhibit of some of his personal belongings along with some copies of materials made from the Hoover Institution archives. The exhibit introduced Jan Karski to high school students at my school in Washington, DC. It is my deepest hope that more people will know Jan Karski and that the Presidential Medal of Freedom will be one of those avenues toward recognition.
Jan Karski’s “Story of a Secret State. My Report to the World” is now available in Dutch language and on sale also in bookshops all over Flanders (Belgium). The book was translated into Dutch by Olaf Brenninkmeijer and published by the Amsterdam based Uitgeverij Cossee BV. The publication was also supported by the Book Institute – the Poland Translation Program.
I wholeheartedly endorse the Jan Karski US Centennial Campaign and support his being awarded posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I have read his story and had the priviledge of hearing the man--what a true international hero!
I'm a student at Georgetown, and I often pass by the Jan Karski statue near White Gravenor while walking around campus. I first heard about Jan Karski's story from my boyfriend, who's mother is a Polish immigrant to the United States. He told me the story of Jan Karski's bravery and strength during the war, and how he risked his life to push the agenda of freedom. Upon attending the Tocqueville Forum event, I learned that Jan Karski was not only a freedom fighter but also an excellent professor who was dedicated to spreading his knowledge to others. Jan Karski deserves much more recognition and celebration than what he currently is receiving. The posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom would be an enormous step in helping the world realize the bravery of this man.
I first met with Professor Jan Karski in the early 1980s when I started getting involved with Facing History and Ourselves; this meeting had a profound impact on my career. Listening to this dignified gentleman so passionately describe his efforts to convince world leaders that they should do something to save the Jews from atrocities, persecution, and mass murder during World War II, left me in awe. As he recalled his efforts to speak with leaders in London and Washington D.C., I watched his hands shake and heard him say emphatically “They Knew! They Knew!” Karski’s work has had an impact on teachers, students and community leaders around the globe, especially those dealing with Facing History and Ourselves. Karski’s actions encourage concerned citizens to take a stand against injustice and find ways to make their voices heard when they advocate for social justice. Jan Karski very much fits the definition of an “upstander,” a word Samantha Power coined in the early 21st century to describe individuals willing to stand up for their beliefs in treating all human beings with respect and dignity.
I am a graduate of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service and had Jan Karski for class twice. He was a truly remarkable man. Then, and now, I believed it to be one of the highlights of my education at this very distinguished university that one of the 20th century's heroes was a member of this community and that I had an opportunity to learn from him, to listen to him and to know him. My stories about Jan Karski are both numerous and probably very familiar to others who knew him and took his classes. He was not a great formal lecturer, but he was a spellbinding storyteller. In each of the classes I took with him, there came a time, not on the syllabus, when he told the story of his trips to the Warsaw ghetto. If I live to be 100 and lose all my other memory, I doubt I will ever forget those moments in my life. I grew to know Karski well outside of class. I asked him on several occasions what gave him the moral courage and fortitude to do what he had done, what so few others did, could have or would have done. In my experience, he found the questions perplexing. I think it betrayed an impatience with the notion that he was somehow different or built of greater moral fiber. He never said this, but based on my conversations with him, I believe he would agree with the following: Karski was put in a position to see and know of the fate of the Polish Jews. Once he knew, there was never any question that he would do everything he could to bring their plight to the attention of the world. I honestly do not believe that he ever considered doing less a realistic possibility. Prof. Karski wrote a letter of reference for me for a famously competitive and very sought after graduate scholarship. After I interviewed, a member of the committee told me that, in more than 25 years of interviewing, he had never read a letter like Karski's on my behalf. He said that he thought "it said at least as much about Prof. Karski's character and generosity as about your talent." I agreed with him wholeheartedly, then and now.