U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for Jan Karski

Poland’s Jan Karski will be awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom
As emissary of Poland’s government-in-exile, was among the first to deliver eyewitness reports of the Holocaust to the West in 1943.


WASHINGTON –  Poland’s Jan Karski will be awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom this spring, President Barack Obama announced April 23, 2012 at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.


In 1943, Jan Karski – an emissary of Poland’s government-in-exile – was among the first to deliver eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jewish-American leaders. Mr. Karski’s reports, based on firsthand experience, provided crucial and numerous details about the Warsaw Ghetto, into which he was smuggled twice by Poland’s Underground, the first and most significant resistance movement in war-torn Europe. Mr. Karski also eyewitnessed the Nazi Izbica camp, and was then dispatched to Western Allies to report on what he’d seen.


“I know that many people will not believe me, will not be able to believe me, will think I exaggerate or invent,” Karski wrote. “But I saw it.”


Mr. Karski detailed his experiences in “Story of a Secret State,” published in 1944 and republished in 2011. For his extraordinary courage and bravery, he was honored as a Righteous Among the Nations and with honorary Israeli citizenship, as well as Poland’s Order of the White Eagle, among many others.


Poland’s Ambassador to the United States Robert Kupiecki said, “I would like to commend President Barack Obama for recognizing Jan Karski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jan Karski played a remarkable role as an eyewitness to the greatest crimes against humanity and put his own life at great risk to report about the atrocities taking place in Nazi-occupied Poland. He did so at the bequest of Poland’s government-in-exile. We are grateful to President Obama for honoring a Pole who demonstrated great courage. Jan Karski was a beacon of light in an era of darkness.”


After the war, Mr. Karski chose not to return to Poland ruled by the communists. He earned his PhD at Georgetown University in DC, and taught there for four decades.


The U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom is the U.S.’ highest civilian honor, and is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other significant endeavors. Notable Poles and Polish-Americans who have received the honor include Pope John Paul II; Lech Walesa; Artur Rubinstein; Jan Nowak-Jezioranski; Zbigniew Brzezinski; John Shalikashvili; Congressman Edmund Muskie; and Stan Musial.


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