“Remember This” promotional photo | Sourced from Google

A week ago I started to watch a one man show, a documentary on PBS based on the book Karski. How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust.

Karski. How one man tried to stop the Holocaust.

The actor, the lighting, the sound and the story touched me so deeply I could only watch 20 or so minutes at a time.

Jan Karski was born in Lodz, Poland in 1914, and  died in Washington DC in 2000.  A man living in the midst of moral depravity, inhuman cruelty and unrestrained evil.

Jan Karski, a courageous Polish intellectual, gifted with a phenomenal memory, a trained diplomat with a compassionate heart, a Roman Catholic, commissioned by a group of Jewish elders to alert America and the free world to the impending doom of European Jews.

They smuggled him into the Warsaw and Izbica ghettoes, into the Belzec concentration camp, disguised as a Ukrainian guard.

 My three aunts Johanna, Elizabeth and Dora Schneider were deported from Koblenz, Germany and disappeared after their recorded arrival in  Izbica. Could Jan Karski have seen them on the cruel streets of Izbica?

One of his two Jewish guides said again and again, “Remember this…”

They charged him to take his eyewitness accounts to the free world. A desperate attempt to save the Jews of Europe.

He was captured and tortured.

The actor, David Strathairn, portraying Jan Karski in Remember This.

Fearing he would betray members of the resistance he slashed his wrists, but escaped from the hospital and made the perilous journey to London.

In February 1943 he met with the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden.

On July 28, 1943 he met with President Roosevelt for one hour in Washington DC.

His eye witness accounts, his urgent plea to save the Jews of Europe met with disbelief and indifference in London and Washington.

Human beings have infinite capacity to ignore things that are not convenient.

Jan Karski

For many years he remained silent about his failed mission but in 1981 Elie Wiesel invited him speak out and he said,

The Lord appointed me to be a messenger and writer during the War, when, it seemed to me, it could have been useful. It was not..so I became a Jew. Like my wife’s family –  who all perished in the ghettos, in the concentration camps and in the gas chambers – in this way all the murdered Jews became my family. But I am a Christian Jew. I am a practicing Catholic. Although I am not a heretic, my faith tells me that Mankind committed its second original sin through action, omission, self imposed ignorance, insensitivity, self interest, hypocrisy or rationalization devoid of feeling.

A hero whose costly mission failed…

And yet today you can see Jan Karski, deep in thought, seated on a bench in the streets Lodz, Krakow, Warsaw, New York, Washington DC, Tel Aviv…

Jan Karski in front of the Polish Consulate in New York City, Photograph by Mike Shen | Sourced from Flickr.com

Who are my heroes today?