Governor Pat Quinn today proclaimed "Jan Karski Day" in Illinois as he addressed the Polish Consulate at a special conference commemorating Karski's 100th birthday this year. Karski, who died on July 14, 2000, was a hero of the Polish Underground during World War II and has been lauded for risking his life to expose the horrors of the Holocaust to the world. Karski was later a professor at Georgetown University where a young Pat Quinn was among his students at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.
"Jan Karski was a true war hero who risked his life to make a difference during one of the darkest times in our world's history," Governor Quinn said. "I was honored to sit in his class and hear firsthand his remarkable accounts of the Holocaust, just as I am honored to celebrate his legacy today. We will never forget Jan Karski's fortitude or extraordinary fight for a just cause. The belief that one person can make a difference is personified by Jan Karski."
Jan Karski was born in Poland in 1914. He received a degree in Law and Diplomatic Science in 1935 and served as a liaison officer of the Polish Underground during World War II. Karski was a young diplomat when war broke out in 1939 with Hitler's invasion of Poland. He was taken prisoner by the Soviet Red Army and escaped just before the ensuing Katyn Forest Massacre.
As a member of the Polish Underground, the resistance movement in occupied Europe, Karski served as a courier between the Underground and the Polish government-in-exile. He was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto, and entered the Nazi's Izbica transit camp disguised as a guard, bearing witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1942, Karski met with President Roosevelt to plead for Allied intervention.
In 1944, Karski's book Story of a Secret State was published and became one of the most moving and inspiring memoirs of World War II and the Holocaust. The book captured his experiences in the Polish Underground and provided one of the first accounts of the horrific killing of Jews by the German Nazis, inspiring readers to stand up against evil and fight for human rights.
After the war, Karski earned his Ph.D. at Georgetown University, where he served as a distinguished professor in the School of Foreign Service for forty years. Karski has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In 2012, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Today's event, entitled "The Man Who Tried to Stop the Holocaust - the History, the Legacy and the Responsibility," was organized by the Polish Consulate General in Chicago in partnership with American Jewish Committee Chicago, Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Wanda Urbanska's Jan Karski Educational Foundation Chicago and commemorates Jan Karski's centennial of birth.