Jan Karski

To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Second World War hero, Jan Karski (1914 – 2000), the Polish Embassy in London is launching a campaign for a public monument to be erected in the UK to commemorate him. Known as ‘the man who tried to stop the Holocaust’, his part in the resistance has been compared with that of Oskar Schindler.

Krakow based sculptor, Karol Badyna has created a series of bronze public sculptures entitled, Jan Karski Memorial Bench with versions in Poland, Israel and the United States. Several portray Karski engrossed in a game of chess, which was his great hobby, while that in Warsaw also has a button which plays the recording of a short talk by the war hero. At present, however, there is no public monument to Jan Karski in the UK. The Polish Embassy is therefore, planning to erect a bronze monument in the Jan Karski Memorial Bench series by Karol Badyna, a model for which has already been prepared (main image & figs.1 & 2). It is not yet known exactly where the monument will be sited, but it will be erected in Central London.

Jan Karski
1. Karol Badyna, Jan Karski Memorial Bench, 2014, bronze model for proposed London monument, (photo: Embassy of the Republic of Poland)

Born in Lodz, Poland, Karski, a Catholic, became a courier for the London-based Polish underground undertaking clandestine missions in Europe. In 1940 he was captured in Slovakia and tortured by the Gestapo, but escaped with the assistance of Polish partisans. Disguised as a Jew he entered the Warsaw ghetto and saw the plight of the Polish Jews. Then disguised as a Latvian guard he was smuggled into the Izbica Lubelska, concentration camp. In 1942 on the orders of the Polish Government in exile, Karski communicated his eye-witness account of the extermination of the Jews in occupied Poland to the leaders of the western Allies. He encountered a certain reluctance to listen by some, President Roosevelt in particular, was not very receptive to his revelations.

jan karski
2. Karol Badyna, Jan Karski Memorial Bench, backview, 2014, bronze model for proposed London monument, (photo: Embassy of the Republic of Poland)

Karski settled in the United States and in 1944 published his memoirs, Courier from Poland: Story of a Secret State, which became a best-seller and was republished in 2012 under the title, Story of a Secret State : My Report to the World. Later as a result of a Fulbright scholarship, he wrote another historical account, The Great Powers and Poland 1919-1945.

In 1982 he was recognised by Yad Vashem as one of the ‘righteous among nations’ and received a medal engraved with words from the Talmud: ‘he who saves one life rescues humanity.’

Main image: Detail,Karol Badyna, Jan Karski Memorial Bench, 2014, bronze model for proposed London monument, (photo: Embassy of the Republic of Poland)