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June 24: The Infiltrator

Lawrence Bush
June 23, 2016
01Jan Karski, a non-Jewish Polish resistance fighter against Nazism who in 1942 infiltrated both the Warsaw Ghetto (twice) and a transit camp near the Bełżec death camp and reported the information he gathered to the Polish government-in-exile as well as the British and American governments, was born in Lodz on this date 1914. Karski was captured by the Red Army as it invaded Poland in 1939 and was handed over to the Germans, who put him on a train bound for a POW camp. Karski managed to escape, and began to organize courier missions between the Polish underground and the Polish Government in Exile, which was based in Paris. He was captured in Slovakia and tortured by the Gestapo in 1940, but was smuggled out of the hospital and resumed his courier missions in 1942. Following his eyewitness experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto, Karski met with President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House — but Roosevelt, he noted, asked him nothing about Jewish suffering apart from the war. In 1944, Karski published a bestselling book about his spying work. He remained in the U.S. after the war and in 1952 received a Ph.D from Georgetown, where he stayed on to teach for forty years. In 1982, Israel’s Yad Vashem recognised him as Righteous Among the Nations, and he received numerous other honors and awards before his death in 2000. To see him in an excerpt from Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, look below. “[W]hat I saw in the Warsaw Ghetto -- it was not humanity. It was not my world.” —Jan Karski

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.