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Karski’s Birth Centennial At NYC Polish Consulate

NEW YORK CITY – Over the past four months, two closely related events at the Consulate General of Poland in New York City have scored triumphs for Poland’s public diplomacy.  Both events inspire Jews and Poles to make the world better by building on the legacies of Raphael Lemkin and Jan Karski.

The first, on the evening of 12 December 2013, awarded the first edition of the Raphael Lemkin International Award (established on 4 September 2013 by Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski) to a Canadian lawyer, Judge Philippe Kirsch, a co-author of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), a Polish lawyer of Jewish origin, coined, in his 1944 book, AXIS RULE IN OCCUPIED EUROPE, an important neologism: genocide, which describes the perpetration, or its attempt, of the systematic mass murder of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.

As lawyer and activist on behalf of humanity, Lemkin spearheaded, at the then recently established United Nations Organization, the campaign to enact the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  On 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly voted-up the Genocide Convention, and on 12 January 1951, after ratification by the member states, the Genocide Convention became international law, but for many years was difficult to enforce.  Judge Kirsch served (2003-2009) as the first president of the ICC. Foreign Minister Sikorski, who participated via television in the event, explained how the Canadian lawyer put Lemkin’s ideas into practice: “It took the uncompromising approach of another man, Judge Philippe Kirsch, for the crime of genocide to be sanctioned with punishment.”

The second event, which took place on 1 April, at the Consulate General’s elegant headquarters, the former De Lamar mansion in Murray Hill, observed the centennial of the birth in Lodz on 24 April 1914 of Jan Kozielewski, who first took Jan Karski as his nom de guerre and then continued to use that name until his death in 2000.  Karski was an intrepid courier for the Polish Underground State (the Delegatura of the Polish State then in exile in London), who alerted top political leaders in London and Washington, including FDR, that he witnessed in conquered and occupied Poland the mass murder of Polish and European Jewry by Nazi Germans.  Karski was frustrated that the leaders of the United States and Great Britain took no immediate and direct action to try to stop the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.  After the war, Karski could not return to Soviet controlled Poland; he earned a PhD. degree at Georgetown University and afterwards taught comparative government there for 40 years.

Wanda_UrbanskaforwebThe first guest speaker at the event, the president of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, Wanda Urbanska, a Polish-American author and television personality, explained that the Foundation was established three years ago and its mission is to promote unity between Jewish Americans and Polish Americans.  Both Lemkin and Karski advocated intervention to protect the persecuted “other”.  For Karski alterity, or otherness, was Judaism; for Lemkin it was Christianity.  Urbanska observed that Henryk Sienkiewicz’s historical novel set in Emperor Nero’s first century Rome, QUO VADIS (which some see as an allegory about life and death in late 19th century Tsarist occupied Poland), exerted a powerful influence on the young Lemkin, who identified with the tortured and persecuted Christians that Sienkiewicz vividly portrayed, and subsequently with Christian Poles tormented by German Nazis.  It is empathy and the effort to stop the suffering of the “other” that unites the legacies of Karski and Lemkin, and by extension Jewish Americans with Polish Americans.

Urbanska overlooked explaining what obstacles Jewish American/ Polish American unity needs to surmount.  This is the contentious issue of pressure by the United States Government, acting on behalf of world-wide politically organized Jewry, to compel Poland to enact lump-sum compensation, as much as $250 billion, for World War II era private property.  Instead, she focused on two successes of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation.  First,  the posthumous decoration, on 29 May 2012, of Jan Karski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award.  Readers recall that President Obama, in his speech praising Karski, used the locution “Polish death camps”.  The wrong view that Poland and the Poles perpetrated the World War II era Judeocide in tandem with Nazi Germany is embedded in American public opinion and justifies pressure by the United States Government on Poland to pay what amounts to unwarranted reparations for crimes against private property perpetrated by Nazi Germans and then by communists on conquered Polish territory.  The Foundation’s second achievement was an unambiguous success:   bringing back into print, with a Foreward by Madeleine Albright and an Afterword by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jan Karski’s powerful book, first published in 1944, which reports his wartime experiences, STORY OF A SECRET STATE(Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC: 2013).  Karski’s book and observations on his life and legacy, delivered at the 1 April event, by Georgetown University’s former president Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, will be the subject of a future article.  Visit the web site of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation to see how you can support their efforts to make the legacy of Jan Karski live on as a force for truth, justice, courage, and tolerance.

(Powstaniec_Warszawski)forwebThe keynote speaker at the Karski event was Mr. Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith.  Readers recall that B’nai B’rith is a successful fraternal insurance association. Some Polish American activists look forward to the day when Polish American fraternal insurance associations may do as much for Polish Americans and America as does ADL for Jewish Americans and America.

In photo: Polish American Congress National Director Mr. Richard Brzozowski, Mateusz Stąsiek – Deputy Consul General of the Republic of Poland,  Mr. Mieczyslaw Madejski representing the Polish Home Army Association of New York.

Mr. Foxman delivered a clear and well organized speech which described his personal, philosophical, and institutional reasons for supporting the legacy of Jan Karski.  On a personal level, Mr. Foxman admires Karski’s courage and heroism in trying to stop the Holocaust.  On a philosophical level, he sees Karski as an exemplar for youth:  stand-up to tyranny and tell the truth.  On the institutional level, Jan Karski’s witness to genocide is still of great value in the world today:  that is why the ADL is proud to have named its Jan Karski Courage to Care Award for this extraordinary man.

By John Czop