During World War II, Jan Karski witnessed humanity at its worst. Had this Catholic member of the Polish resistance not seen with his own eyes the degradation, starvation, and death suffered by Poland’s Jews, he might not have believed it himself.
“It wasn’t humanity,” Karski said. “It was some … some hell.”
Karski, a young diplomat who joined the Polish Underground during the war, recounted his experiences more than 40 years later in Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary. On two life-risking undercover missions to the Warsaw ghetto in 1942, Karski saw corpses lying in the street, mothers trying in vain to feed their babies, and Hitler Youth hunting down Jews for sport.
But as an exhibit coming to the Oak Park Public Library shows, Karski didn’t wait 40 years to tell the world about Nazi atrocities. Confronted with unspeakable suffering, he spoke out while the horrors were still happening. At the urging of Jewish leaders in Poland, Karski went abroad in 1942, during wartime, to deliver eyewitness testimony to leaders in England, the United States, and the Polish government-in-exile. Despite a general lack of interest and disbelief from leaders including President Roosevelt, Karski continued to deliver his message to the West. In 1944, he published his memoir, Story of a Secret State, which quickly became a best-seller.
On October 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, the Main Library will host the opening reception of The World Knew: Jan Karski’s Mission for Humanity, featuring speakers from the Jan Karski Educational Foundation and the Polish American Librarians Association. Everyone is invited to attend this free event to learn more about Karski’s compelling story from these experts instrumental in bringing the exhibition to the library.
“Jan Karski is the consummate example of Polish resistance during World War II and the Holocaust,” said Elizabeth Marszalik, a Manager of Library Experiences and Initiatives at the Oak Park Public Library. “This beautifully mounted and moving exhibit serves as a reminder that those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.”
The World Knew: Jan Karski’s Mission for Humanity will be on display at the Main Library from September 29 to October 14, as part of the library’s Humanity 101 event series.
More Humanity 101 events at the Main Library:
Tuesday, September 29, 1 pm – Schindler’s List screening and discussion with Oak Park film historian Doug Deuchler.
Wednesday, October 7, 7 pm – “Rising From the Ashes: The Rebuilding of Warsaw in the Wake of the Holocaust” with writer and preservationist Margaret Guzek.
Wednesday, October 21, 1 pm – Community book discussion of Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World by Jan Karski.
For more information about Humanity 101 and to see all events, visit http://oppl.org/about/library-news/humanity-101-returns-oak-park.