On April 21st, Hoover Library & Archives joins Stanford’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies to present a film screening of Karski and the Lords of Humanity, a new feature-length documentary about the life and remarkable experiences of Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski, whose archive is at Hoover. During World War II Karski was called upon by Polish Jewish organizations and the Polish government-in-exile to present evidence of Nazi crimes to the Allies in an effort to prevent the Holocaust. Karski infiltrated the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi Transit Camp and carried his dreadful eyewitness report of atrocities to Britain and the United States, meeting personally with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Using archival documents photographs and footage from Hoover’s E. Thomas Wood and Jan Karski papers, director Slawomir Grunberg’s film recounts the dramatic undercover operations of the dapper, erudite, and multilingual Karski. Possessing a photographic memory and trained in diplomatic service, Karski was one of the most successful spies of World War II; he not only infiltrated Nazi ghettos and concentration camp operations, but returned from Germany and Poland with photographic evidence of Nazi crimes. During his service he survived brutal torture by the Gestapo, executed a daring escape from a hospital, smuggled microfilm out of enemy territory, and disguised his accent using medical means. Though Karski was of course not successful in preventing the Holocaust, he is regarded as the first Allied spy to report the extent of the atrocities of Germany’s Final Solution. His reports directly inspired Roosevelt’s decision to create the War Refugee Board, which is credited with saving as many as 200,000 lives.
Following the war Karski became a US citizen, and for more than forty years taught history and international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Karski a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.
Karski and the Lords of Humanity will be shown on April 21st in Oshman Auditorium in Stanford’s new McMurtry Building. Tickets may be obtained through the website of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.