Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I could have done more

A member of the Polish underground during WWII,
Karski risked his life uncovering the NAZI holocaust.
Polish 2nd Lt. Jan Karski was captured by the Russian army, handed over to the Germans, escaped and went underground with the resistance in Poland. While gathering information for his government in exile, he uncovered what was being hidden from virtually everyone including the German citizens; the Nazi death camps.

With the help of colleagues in the underground, Karski managed a brief surveillance of the Warsaw ghetto where the city's Jewish population was slowly starving to death. Persuaded there was more, he managed to sneak into a Nazi transit camp where Jews were held prior to being shipped off to the murder factories that Heinrich Himmler and his Einsatzgruppen had established.

Karski traveled to the U.S. with his message, meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt. He gave a simple, clear description of the nature and scope of the atrocities being committed. Roosevelt concluded the conversation, assuring Karski that the war criminals would be dealt with after the Allies had won. Karski later met with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter who was himself a Jew. Justice Frankfurter was incredulous and told Karski emphatically that he didn't believe him.

Despite the urgency of the message, the Allies failed to follow up on the issue even as further proof surfaced. For the rest of his life until his death in 2000, Karski lamented the failure, distraught that he had not done more.

Heroes don't always win, but they always try.  They're heroes because they didn't pass by on the other side of the street.

Wikipedia Note: Karski met with Polish politicians in exile including the Prime Minister, as well as members of political parties ... He also spoke to the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, giving a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met journalist Arthur Koestler, ... He then traveled to the United States, and on July 28, 1943 Karski personally met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Oval Office, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust.[10] During their meeting Roosevelt asked about the condition of horses in Poland.[11] Roosevelt did not ask one question about the Jews.[12] Karski went on to meet with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Supreme Court Justice Felix FrankfurterCordell HullWilliam Joseph Donovan, and Rabbi Stephen Wise. Frankfurter, skeptical of Karski's report, said later "I did not say that he was lying, I said that I could not believe him. There is a difference."[13] Karski presented his report to media, bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch), members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without much result. ...[14] 

During an interview with Hannah Rosen in 1995 Karski said about the failure to rescue most of the Jews from mass murder;

It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did it. The Allies considered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn't do it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland helped to save Jews. Now, every government and church says, "We tried to help the Jews", because they are ashamed, they want to keep their reputations. They didn't help, because six million Jews perished, but those in the government, in the churches they survived. No one did enough. [21]

After the war, the Allies lack of response was viewed as a failure of intelligence.  Reports were many, often contradictory, and difficult to believe.