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Who Owns Jan Karski? The Controversy Around the Man Who Tried to Stop the H...
Thu 23 March 2017, 18:00 – 20:00 GMT
Jan Karski (1914–2000) was a Polish diplomat and resister who in 1942 and 1943 undertook to inform the Western Allies about the extermination of Jews that was being carried out by the Germans in the occupied Poland. As we know, Karski’s mission was hardly successful, which left the Polish hero with an enduring sense of guilt and failure. Another attempt to rally support for the causes Karski championed was his bestselling book, Story of the Secret State (1944). Yet, like his diplomatic mission, his memoirs achieved little in practical terms. Karski’s engagement with the Jewish cause was officially acknowledged in 1982 when he was recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, and when in 1994 he was made an honorary citizen of Israel. Then, in 2002 a statue of Jan Karski was unveiled in Washington and in 2012 Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Polish courier the Presidential Medal for Freedom. It is also in order to honour Karski’s courage and moral integrity that in 2009 French writer Yannick Haenel published a novel celebrating the Polish hero’s commitment to saving Europe’s Jews. At first favourably received, Jan Karski then caused a storm in the French media where the book was attacked by, among others, eminent figures such as Claude Lanzmann and Annette Wieviorka; the critics reproached Haenel for having distorted historical reality and misrepresented Karski himself. It is the aim of this presentation to shed some light on the heated debate surrounding Haenel’s controversial take on Karski’s story and, if possible, to evaluate the French writer’s contribution to preserving the legacy of the Polish resister and, more broadly, the memory of Holocaust victims.