Social Studies teachers are—next to one’s parents—the most critical source of information for students about the past. They are the ones to shape the students’ outlook on historical events and make them realize how sometimes remote stories can be reflected in today’s reality. That is why they are also a perfect target for the promotion of the Karski legacy. For the last five years, the annual Florida Council for the Social Studies (FCSS) Conference enabled the Jan Karski Educational Foundation to educate Social Studies teachers about the story of Jan Karski and encourage them to pass this knowledge to their students.
The 64th FCSS Conference took place on October 15-16, 2021, in Orlando, FL, and, as always, it was extremely well organized. The Jan Karski Educational Foundation was represented by Bożena U. Zaremba, whose presentation entitled “Why Should We Talk about a Holocaust Hero Today?” focused on contemporary heroes who follow in Karski’s footsteps. She talked about Karski’s life and his mission to enlighten the western leaders on the situation in Nazi-occupied Poland and the Holocaust of the Jews, and then presented contemporary people, who through their actions, demonstrate the values associated with Karski—courage, compassion, integrity, and speaking truth to power. She talked about the recipient of the 2021 Spirit of Jan Karski Award, Maria Kalesnikava,* who has led the opposition movement in Belarus, and three young people in Poland, whose courage and compassion during the difficult time of the global pandemic were recognized with the Karski 2020 Award for the Youth. (Click on the links to learn more about these incredible individuals.)
In addition, the Foundation advanced the Karski legacy at the Exhibit Hall, where the Conference participants had an opportunity to learn about the Polish emissary, review books by and about him, including Karski’s wartime memoir Story of a Secret State and the graphic novel, Karski’s Mission: To Stop the Holocaust as well as learn about the Foundation’s mission and educational projects.
One of the guests at the JKEF table was a Social Studies teacher at South Fork High School in Stuart, FL, David Yankwitt (pictured on the left, receiving the "Teacher of the Year" award). His teacher was Karski’s student at Georgetown University. He said that it was because of his mentor, who always spoke highly of Professor Karski, that he decided to become an educator. The Karski karma lives on.
*Sometimes spelled "Kolesnikova"
Photos: Bozena U. Zaremba