Friday, April 17, 2009

Tribute To A Noble Pole - Jan Karski Corner

The New York Times reports on the dedication yesterday of Jan Karski Corner in New York City. It is a place that I plan to visit the next time I get to NYC to do honor to a hero of civilization and a noble Pole. Jan Karski Corner

As reported in the Times:
The southeast corner of Madison Avenue and East 37th Street, in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, was given the honorary designation of Jan Karski Corner on Thursday, in memory of the Polish liaison officer who infiltrated the Warsaw ghetto and a German concentration camp and carried the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to Western leaders.

A monument to Mr. Karski, showing him seated on a bench, holding a cane and with a chess board nearby, was erected at the same intersection in November 2007, outside the Polish Consulate. Mr. Karski, who later became a professor of history at Georgetown University, died in 2000 at the age of 86. The new street sign in his honor stands outside the De Lamar mansion, the consul’s residence.
Karski, at the risk of his own life, was smuggled in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto and a German Death Camp and then made his way to England and the U.S in 1942 to tell what he witnessed of the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis. As an agent of the Polish-Government-in-Exile, he tried to convince the leaders of the countries allied against Germany to do something to save the Jews as well as others being mass-murdered by the Germans. Korzybski was in contact with Polish-emigre groups in the U.S. and knew quite early what was going on, as did many Poles living in the West. He undoubtedly felt proud of the Polish resistance to Germany and of Polish assistance to the Jews, and felt disgust at the vast indifference and inaction in the West.

I've talked to many people—who should know better—who talk as if the Poles at that time were the greatest Jew-haters in Europe. Certainly there were lots of Polish antisemites. But there were antisemites all over Europe and elsewhere. And the Poles as a whole were not the worst. The death camps in Poland were run by Germans not Poles. The Germans also murdered about 3 million ethnic Poles. There was not a Nazi-occupied country in Europe that suffered more than Poland and whose non-Jewish citizens did more for the Jews in their midst—although it certainly wasn't enough. The role of Polish soldiers fighting throughout other theatres of the war for the Allied cause also makes a remarkable and unparalleled story, quite in keeping with the Polish tradition in support of liberty. As an old Polish saying goes—"For your freedom and ours."

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