AR-Online logo 

 Posted Monday, July 10, 2000

Quick navigation

Alphabetical index (text)


April 26, 2000


July 14, 2000

Holocaust Eyewitness Karski Dies

By The Associated Press

KarskiWARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Jan Karski, a former Polish diplomat who provided early eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the West during World War II, has died. He was 86.

Karski died Thursday at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., a university spokeswoman said. The Polish embassy there confirmed that he died of heart and kidney ailments.

Born Jan Kozielewski in 1914 in the central industrial Polish city of Lodz, he joined the Polish diplomatic service in 1935 and served as artillery officer in the September 1939 campaign against the Nazi invasion. He was captured by the Red Army after the Soviets invaded Poland from the East a few weeks later, but escaped to join the underground.

His excellent memory and courage made him a courier. As an officer in the Polish resistance, he made four runs to the West with reports from underground leaders to the exiled Polish government. He was captured in Slovakia in 1940 and tortured by the Nazi Gestapo, but he escaped with the help of Polish partisans who attacked the prison.

In 1942, disguised as a Nazi guard, Karski sneaked into the Izbica death camp in eastern Poland and twice entered the Warsaw Ghetto, where he witnessed mass killing and torture of Jews. He brought his story to the West, briefing political and religious leaders in London and then meeting personally with President Franklin Roosevelt.

Karski's report, and pressure from the Polish exiles, led to the Allies' 1942 statement condemning German crimes against the Jews. But in the months that followed, when Karski tried to tell his stories to Allied leaders, they reacted with silence and took no concrete action, Karski said.

"Maybe they did not believe, maybe they thought I was exaggerating," he said in a 1995 interview with The Associated Press.

"Roosevelt did not show any feelings, did not make any comment," he recalled. "He told me to repeat in Poland that the Allies will win the war and that the criminals will be punished."

"Story of a Secret State," a book Karski wrote about the resistance movement, life in occupied Poland and Nazi atrocities, first appeared in 1944 in the United States and became a bestseller.

After the war, communist leaders seeking to claim all credit for opposing and ousting the Nazis denied the existence of the Polish underground Home Army, which operated on orders from democratic Poland's government-in-exile in London. Thousands of Home Army fighters were jailed and many were sentenced to death on charges fabricated by the communists.

Karski settled in the United States and lectured on international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington.

"The entire Georgetown University community is grateful and proud that he chose to share his gifts with us for nearly forty years," the Rev. Leo J. O'Donovan, Georgetown's president, said in a statement.

Only after communism fell in 1989 was Karski able to visit his homeland. After that, he divided his time between Poland and a home in Chevy Chase, Md.

Karski will be buried at Mount Olive cemetery in Bethesda, Md. His grave will be next to that of his late wife, actress Pola Nirenska, who died in 1992, the PAP news agency said.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

We invite our readers to submit observations and knowledge on Jan Karski and his reports from Nazi occupied Poland, and (in 1940) from the NKVD-occupied Baltic states.

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical

 Register your name and address to go on the Mailing List to receive

[ Go back to AR Online Index ]

© Focal Point 2000 e-mail:  write to David Irving