Karski’s war-time memoir published in UK
PR dla Zagranicy
Story of a Secret State by Jan Karski, the Polish World War II underground courier, has been published by Penguin in the UK.
Subtitled ‘My Report to the World’, it was first published in the United States in 1944 and sold over 360, 000 copies there by the end of the war.
The 350-page Penguin edition is the book’s first publication in Britain, complete with detailed new notes.
In his review of Story of a Secret State in the Financial Times, Stefan Wagstyl writes that “this eye-witness testimony from a war that was still raging is imbued with a passion that subsequent memoirs can rarely match. The stench of war clings to its pages.”
According to Wagstyl, “the most significant element in Karski’s book is his account of the fate of Poland’s Jews. He enters the Warsaw Ghetto to meet Jewish leaders and hear their desperate plea for help. (…) He takes his story to Allied leaders, including Anthony Eden, Britain’s foreign secretary, and US president Franklin Roosevelt. But he fails to secure the support Warsaw’s Jews sought. He meets indifference and even disbelief.”
In September 1939, after the Soviet invasion of Poland, Karski was taken prisoner by the Soviets but, having successfully concealed his officer’s rank, he was handed over to the Germans during an exchange of Polish POWs, as an ordinary soldier.
Thanks to this, he was spared the fate of Polish officers murdered in the Katyń forest. In November 1939, he escaped from a transport to a POW camp and reached Warsaw, where he joined anti-Nazi resistance.
From January 1940 he took part in courier missions with dispatches from the Polish underground to the Polish Government-in-Exile, then based in France.
During one such mission, in July 1940, he was arrested by the Gestapo in Slovakia, tortured and transported to a hospital in Nowy Sącz, from where he was rescued by Polish resistance.
He soon resumed active service in the Information and Propaganda Bureau of the Home Army’s High Command, and in the summer of 1942 he was assigned to perform a secret mission to London on behalf of the Polish Government’s Delegate in Poland and several political parties.
In order to gather evidence on the plight of Polish Jews, he was twice smuggled by Jewish underground leaders into the Warsaw Ghetto.
After the war, Karski settled in the United States and became a professor as Georgetown University in Washington. He remained an advocate of Holocaust memory until his death in 2000, aged 86. (mk/pg)