Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
writes from Canberra, Australia, Thursday, August 3, 2000
Drilling down deeper into Jan Karski
I CAN assure Mr Wasilewski that I have read David Engel's translation of Karski's 1940 report both in "Jewish Social Studies" and in "Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939-46". In fact I have in my possession a photocopy of Engel's article in "Jewish Social Studies" 45:1, 1983.
It seems to me that the point of Mr Wasilewski's objection was my use of the term "anti-Semitic". I was not using this term normatively, that is to pass judgement on Karski, but purely descriptively, in the sense in which that term is currently used, i.e. to denote any negative statement about Jews. I was not making any statement about whether or not Karski's comments were justified or not.
However, it is instructive to examine carefully what it was Karski was saying, both explicitly and implicitly, in his 1940 report. The most interesting parts of it are Section 7 "The Jewish Problem as an Element of Internal German Policy in the Polish Territories", Section 8 "The Present Danger of the Jewish Question", and Section 9 "Conclusion".
In Section 7, Karski writes:
"The Germans are attempting at all costs to win over the Polish masses - not the intelligentsia, not the upper classes, not the wealthy and enlightened landholders or townspeople, but the masses - the peasants, the workers, the artisans, etc. They employ various methods".
He then describes some of these methods, the most important being exploitation of the hostility between Poles and Jews:
"They are attempting to play upon the growing conflicts between the Polish police or other vestiges pf the Polish civil service and the broad masses of society, almost always standing 'on the side of the people', and in the end, 'the Germans, and the Germans alone, will help the Poles to settle accounts with the Jews'.
Thus the relation of the Germans to the Jews clearly exceeds the strictures of their official ideology and is one of the elements of their internal policy.
They are attempting: 1) to extract as much as they can from the Jews [money, stocks, means of production, workshops]; 2) to cleanse the lands seized by them of Jews, at the price of Judaizing the Generalgouvernement; 3) to use the Jews as bait to win the sympathy, recognition, and respect of a broad strata (sic!) among the Poles.
'At last the Germans are solving the Jewish Question in the Generalgouvernement, not so much for themselves as in consideration of the interest of the Polish nation' - this is how, according to the German design, the [Polish] populace ought to understand their behavior.
Much indicates that it is indeed this that they desire.
They do not particularly care in principle about the oppression of Polish Jews in the Generalgouvernement: A Jew can still buy himself out of wearing an armband or patch if he has a lot of money; he can still go over to the Bolsheviks if he pays; often he can still get a passport if he gives a bribe. The Germans are not resettling Jews from Zakopane as they had announced, since the Jewish community paid them ransom; they are still not arresting important rabbis or other Jewish personalities when they pay for their freedom; etc, etc.
All of this notwithstanding, the fact is that in the final analysis they will not solve the Jewish Question at all (my emphasis).
Plunder, 'the psychological outlet of the Master Race', and the duping of the Polish populace - those are their real goals."
So there we have it. Karski, "the man who tried to stop the Holocaust", to use the pompous epithet bestowed on him by Wood and Jankowski, did not even believe in 1940 that there would be a German-perpetrated "holocaust", or indeed any real attempt by them to solve the Jewish Question. He thought that all the anti-Jewish measures were simply a device to fool the gullible Poles, and win their support by playing on their hostility to the Jews. This does no sound like a man who would be inspired to warn an indifferent world about the doom awaiting the Jews of Europe.
In Section 8, Karski repeats his assertion that "the Solution of the Jewish Question" is a tool in the hands of the Germans to achieve the "moral pacification" of broad sections of Polish society. However, it is in Section 9, "Conclusion", that the most sensational part of his report is to be found. He reaches four conclusions, the second of which reads as follows:
"I do not know how to do this, or even how to begin, or even who could do it, or on what scale in the long run [if it is possible at all] - but might it not be possible to a certain extent, in the face of the existence of three enemies [if, of course, one should currently regard the Jews as enemies], to endeavour to create something along the lines of a common front with the two weaker partners against the third more powerful and deadly enemy, leaving accounts to be settled with the other two later?"
Karski does not specify the "more powerful and deadly enemy", but it is clear from the context that he is suggesting that the Polish Government-in-Exile should make an alliance of convenience with the Soviet Union and the Jews against Germany, and then after the defeat of Germany to turn against its two erstwhile allies and "settle accounts" with them, whatever that may mean. Let there be no doubt about what Karski is saying; it is not only the Soviet Union with which he is proposing a later "settling of accounts", but also the Jews of Poland.
What could such a "settling of accounts" consist in? Again Karski is not specific, but in the last paragraph of Section 6b "The Jews - the Invaders - the Poles: Under Bolshevik Annexation (Occupation)", Karski refers to the Poles waiting for the moment "when they will be able simply to take revenge upon the Jews", with the "overwhelming majority [first among them of course the youth] literally look[ing] forward to an opportunity for 'repayment in blood'." Accordingly, it is a reasonable interpretation of his words that he was implying some sort of violent revenge against the Jews, involving bloodshed.
That Karski and/or his masters in the Polish Government-in-Exile were well aware of the import of the above conclusion is shown by the alternative version of it which Karski prepared for Anglo-French consumption. It reads:
"I don't know how to do this, or even how to begin, or even who could do it, or on what scale in the long run, but might it not be possible to create something along the lines of a common front with the two weaker partners against the more powerful and deadly enemy?"
All implication of the Soviet Union and the Jews as enemies, with whom accounts will be settled later, has been removed.
The above examination of crucial parts of Karski's 1940 report has revealed the underlying paradox in the story of his life. Here we have a man who, as Mr Wasilewski has pointed out, received many honours from Jewish organisations, including honorary Israeli citizenship, the title "Righteous Among Nations", and nomination by Yad Vashem for the Nobel Peace Prize on 1998, despite the fact that in 1940 he not only did not believe that the Germans would solve the Jewish Problem in Poland but also tacitly suggested that the Poles should perpetrate the "solution" themselves after the German defeat, in an obviously bloody way.
How could such an amazing outcome have occurred? The answer is of course is his 1944 book, "Story of a Secret State", in which, either on his own initiative or on that of the Polish Government-in-Exile, he assumed the pose of a philo-Semite who was desperately trying to warn the world of the ghastly fate that had befallen the Jews.
One question we may legitimately ask is whether the Jewish organisations who awarded Karski so many honours were aware of what he had suggested in 1940. Perhaps they did not, but experience has shown that Jewish organisations are very effective at ferreting out the deep, dark secrets of those they are interested in. The likelihood is that they were well aware of Karski's 1940 report and what he had said about Jews in it, but chose to honour the man anyway, no doubt because it was in their political interest to do so, thereby displaying a cynicism of absolutely monumental proportions.
And one may also ask what drove Karski himself in all of this. Was he expressing his own views in what he wrote, both in 1940 and in 1944, or was he simply dishing up to his masters what he thought they wanted to hear? Whatever the truth of the matter is, it is apparent that at some point he realised that his image as "the man who tried to stop the Holocaust" was his best card, and he went on playing it for all it was worth ever after.
Mr Mills is an Australian civil servant and an expert on the Holocaust.
Related items on this website:
In Defence of Jan Karski | Ted O'Keefe adds his two ha'porth | Heath replies to O'Keefe | Jan Karski Dies: Pole who brought word of Holocaust | O'Keefe responds to Heath on Belzec | Lowdown on the late Jan Karski | Ted O'Keefe adds more | Was Karski raised as a Jew?