When World War II broke out, Jan Karski was thirty years old, an
inexperienced lieutenant in the Polish Reserve. Taken prisoner by the
Russians and then exchanged to the Germans, he escaped and became
a member of the Polish Underground. He suffered unimaginable torture at
the hands of the Gestapo that had almost killed him. He was reduced to
no more than a semblance of a human being being - just skin and bones,
but miraculously he survived. Rescued by the members of the
Underground he was taken to various hiding places during which time he
recovered with the help of many supporters. From then on he resumed
his work in the Underground in the field of propaganda, and as a liaison
for Poland, in France, Germany, and Spain.
He was chosen to depart on a mission to London, to report the situation in Poland. His voyage took him on a long
and perilous route from Poland, to Gibraltar, crossing through Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Lyons, and Barcelona,
aided every step of the way by an army of contacts posted all throughout Europe.
Having arrived at Gibraltar, he reported to then-Minister of the Interior Wladyslaw Mikolajczyk, of all the details
concerning the operation of the Polish Underground, the brutal German occupation, the tragedy of the Warsaw
Ghetto, and the death camp at Belzec. He recounted how he was smuggled inside disguised as a Lithuanian
guard, and witnessed first-hand the unimaginable horrors it held which he compared to Dante's Inferno. Jan
Karski was the first member of the Polish Underground to report the German atrocities to the outside world.
Soonafter, he met with Prime Minister Sikorski, the General and Commander-in-Chief of all Polish military units,
including the Polish Underground.
For his courage as a fighting member of the Polish Underground, and the immense sacrifices he made for the
Polish people, the Polish nation, and for humanity, he was decorated with the Virtuti Militari Order. Tragically,
Sikorski died a few weeks later, in a mysterious plane crash just after taking off from Gibraltar.
Karski also met the President of Poland, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, as well as individual members of the Polish
government-in-exile, the Minister of Finance, followed by numerous international contacts - leaders of the United
Nations, and Anthony Eden. He was then flown to the United Sates to confer with leaders in politics, religion,
business, etc. He gave reports to the US War Department through Secretary Stimson; to the State Department
through Assistant Secretary Berle; to the Department of Justice through Attorney-General Biddle; to the Supreme
Court through Justice Frankfurter. He met with numerous individuals in Catholic circles (Archbishop Mooney and
Stritch) and in Jewish circles (Mr. Goldman, Mr. Waldman, Rabbi Wise and others).
Then the most important interview with the most powerful man, and leader of the most powerful nation in the
world, the President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Karski was very impressed with the
detailed knowledge that Roosevelt had of Poland, and eagerly responded with information and details on every
question asked of him.
Jan Karski fulfilled his mission, as a soldier of the Polish nation, and as a human being struggling for freedom
justice and peace.
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