Defining the word hero is difficult. The dictionary states that a hero is any person admired for courage, nobility, or exploits, especially in war. For most people, the definition of hero is left to interpretation. Some people believe a hero is an exceptional athlete, but others think it is the local cop that made the news for a job well done. It is all up to the individual who is defining what a hero is. Jan Karski is a hero for several reasons; he proved to be courageous, demonstrated his intelligence, and he lived to tell his story. It is often said that Karski tried to stop the war himself and failed (OKeefe). His attempt to stop the war did fail but his voice was heard. Through his efforts, other countries became more involved and they opened their eyes to what was going on. Though he did fail, he played an important role which helped end the war.
Jan Karski was born in 1914, in Lodz Poland (Block 170). He was the youngest of eight children. Karskis father died when he was young and never knowing his father left him unable to love him. On the other had, he had great respect for his mother, he loved her (Block 170). Through school he was a good student. His strong subjects were history, poetry and literature. According to Karski, Jews were always strong in science, and throughout his school years, he was great friends with a group of Jewish boys. This group of young men, including Karski would help each other with their studies. Karski finished school in 1931, his mother did not want him to go into the military so he went to college instead. He majored in law an diplomatic science and received his masters degree in 1935 (Block 170). After graduating from the university, Karski began working for the League of Nations and in 1939, he became the secretary of the Department of Immigration, and he became the private secretary of the director of personnel in the Foreign Ministry. As the war became more of a threat, Karski took on new roles.
Karski started in the military when the Nazis invaded Poland. After the military he serviced as a propagandist and Polish spy during the war. He later fell into the role of courier for the Polish Underground. Here, his courage became obvious. Karski, who had been a practicing Catholic, converted to the Jewish religion. He stated: Like the family of my wifeall of them perished in the ghettos, in the concentration camps, in the gas chambersso all murdered Jews became my family (Wood). Though Karski witnessed some of the most horrific acts in history, he managed to stand up for himself and for the millions of other people who died in vain during the holocaust. The victims of the Holocaust died in vain because at the time millions of people were being secretly murdered. Upon observation, Karski realized that the government and civilians honestly had no idea of what was going on. They knew very little about the horrendace acts that were taking place during the war. Those who did know, turned the other cheek because they did not want to get involved.
Karski proved his courage by risking his life. He endured the torture of the death camps in order to find out what was going on inside. He would then demonstrate his intelligence by surviving the camps and in the end, being sane enough to tell about them. Much of what Karski reported was so unbelievable that many people could not believe what he said. Nobody was calling Karski a liar, but the events he depicted were so unimaginable they couldnt believe these heinous crimes were going on. He would tell of the torture that innocent people endured. He told of the mass murders in the gas chambers and the tests that were being performed in secret laboratories.
Karski had lived through many tragic affairs. When all was said and done he took time to write a book. All though, he had been writing during the war, he now took in everything he had experienced and all that he had seen, and put his adventures in writing for all the world to endure. In his book he revisited his past and told his Story of a Secret State. His book told of the atrocities that he witnessed and of the horrible memories that still haunted him. He bared his soul and left his character open to judgment. His actions not only contest he was a hero, but it proves he was. After he had written his book and lived his life, Karski appeared in the film Shoah where he acted out the events of his life in the Warsaw ghetto.
The war left Karski scarred, but it did not stop him from fulfilling a long life. After the war he went on to teach political science at the Georgetown University. Many say that he is not a hero but after all he had been through and all he has taught the world, he is definitely worthy of being called a hero. Jan Karski defined courage and intelligence during war time and throughout his life and thanks to him, we have the books to remind us of what he went through to help save the world.
Block, Gay and Drucker. Rescuers: Portraits of moral Courage in the
Holocaust. New York London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc.,
Cavanah, Frances (ed). We Wanted to be Free:the Refugees Own Stories.
Philadelphia: Macrae Smith Company., 1971
Lewin, Zofia and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. Jan Karskis Account. University
of Pennsylvania: Department of English Home Page. 1999. 1 October 2000 .
OKeefe, Theodore J. A Secret Report by Jan Karski. The Journal for
Historical Review (www.irh.org.). 1986. 1 October 2000 .
Wood, E. Thomas and Stanislaw M. Jankowski. Karski: How One Man
Tried to Stop the Holocaust. city: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994