Although he was considered a war hero in his country, Jan Karski was never recognized as such internationally. Many say that is because the Allied countries viewed his contribution to mankind as an embarrassment for the United States and the United Kingdom.
Karski was finally recognized on January 8, during a ceremony organized by Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski in Brussels. Among the attendees at the ceremony were Franco Frattini, former Foreign Minister of Italy, Kjel Magne , Norway’s former Prime Minister and many other representatives and historians.
Jan Kozielewski (Karski) was born in 1914, in Łódź, Poland, in a multi-cultural area where most of the people were Jewish but where he was raised as a Catholic. He graduated from Jan Kazimierz Univesity of Lviv in 1935, and worked as a diplomat in Germany, Switzerland and UK in the 1930s.
When the Second World War began, he was taken prisoner by the Soviet army. He concealed his officer’s rank and pretended to be an ordinary soldier. The Germans then garbed him during an exchange of Polish prisoners of war. He was able to escape Katyn, where 22,000 Polish servicemen died by the order of Stalin. He escaped a prisoner of war camp in November 1939, same year when he changed his name into Karsiki, the EurActiv.com reports.
Karski was assigned with numerous courier operations, from France, to Britain and to Poland. Although he was recaptured and tortured by the Gestapo in 1940, he was able to escape again.
Władysław Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister, who was in exile in November 1942, ordered Karski to find evidence about the Nazi atrocities in Poland. First he manage to enter the Warsaw Ghetto and finally see what was happening with the prisoners; then, pretending to be an Estonian camp guard, he entered the Bełżec concentration camp. He was also responsible for the making of a microfilm, containing information about the killing of Jews in German-occupied Poland.
Karski became the first eyewitness to give information to Allies about the Holocaust. He traveled to the United States with Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Minister at the time, where they met and talked to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He also met Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, also a Jewish, who couldn’t believe what the Polish officer was telling him, while President Roosevelt asked no questions about it, he seemed to have more interest in what had happened to the horses in Poland after the German invasion.
Marian Marek Drozdowski wrote a biography of Jan Karski after meeting him in the 1990s. He thought Karski would be embarrassed to attend a ceremony like this and that “He only thought he was doing his duty”, Drozdowski said.