“Tell them that we are dying.” The West wasn’t ready to listen: Jan Karski and the Holocaust


The young Karski: they didn’t believe him.

“I have met many people who are considered heroes. Karski was the real deal,” said journalist Andrew Nagorski of Jan Karski, the man who tried to stop the Holocaust. Andrew was writing on Facebook – but he has more to say than that. He has just published a powerful article in the Daily Beast recalling his 1998 interview with Karski, who died in 2000. Karski was a courier for the Polish underground, and he was determined to bring evidence of Nazi inhumanity—but the West wasn’t ready to listen.

During his interview with Nagorski, Karski came straight to the point, adding new details not published in his 1944 book, The Story of A Secret State. Karski had met with Jewish leaders in Poland, and recalled the details:

“Hitler has decided to murder all the Jews in Europe,” one of them told him. The other leader started to cry. “We cannot hope that the Poles will help us. Poles can save individuals but they cannot stop the destruction of the Jews. Approach as many people as possible—the English, the Americans, whoever. Tell them that we are dying.”

The other message: The Allies need to scatter leaflets across Germany holding the entire population responsible for this mass murder, telling them they would face wholesale reprisals. They should also publicly execute Germans, “any they can get hold of” anywhere in the world.

Karski replied that such retribution was impossible to imagine, and the demand would horrify everyone. One of the leaders conceded: “We do not dream of it being fulfilled, but nevertheless we demand it,” since this would demonstrate “how helpless we are, how desperate our plight is, how little we stand to gain from an Allied victory as things are now.”


Nagorski and Karski in 1998.

Finally, they told Karski that he should convey their demand that Jewish leaders in the West should go to government offices and start hunger strikes there, not relenting “until they have obtained guarantees that a way has been decided upon to save the Jews.” They should refuse all food and water, dying “a slow death while the world is looking on… This may shake the conscience of the world.”

Karski understood that these Jewish leaders were all too aware of “the complete hopelessness” of their situation, which is why they had cast all practical considerations aside. “For them, for the suffering Polish Jews, this was the end of the world.”

Read the whole thing, in all its disturbing glory, here. An excerpt of an interview is also included in the video below, for the film Karski and the Lords of Humanity (I wrote about it here.)

2 Responses to ““Tell them that we are dying.” The West wasn’t ready to listen: Jan Karski and the Holocaust”

  1. Jeff S. Says:

    I almost never want to meet people whose work I admire, but it saddens me to know that Karski lived just up the street from me for years, and that I may have even seen him on the bus, but didn’t know to keep an eye out for him. It would have been a privilege to say hello to him in my shaky Polish.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Me too, Jeff. I didn’t know he existed.