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April 19, 2009

N.Y. City Honors Polish Hero
Who Tried to Stop the Holocaust

The City of New York paid special tribute to the legendary World War II hero of both the Polish and the Jewish people by renaming the intersection of Manhattan's Madison Avenue and East 37th Street "Jan Karski Corner."

A ceremony unveiling the street sign was conducted on April 16th at that intersection across from where the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland is located.

Mr. Karski was a Polish Catholic diplomat of Poland's government-in-exile in London while the country was under German occupation and served as a courier for the Polish Underground. At the pleadings of Jewish leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, he carried out a secret mission to Great Britain and the United States to warn the Western Allies the Germans were conducting a campaign of genocide against the Jewish people and to urge them to take action to stop the Holocaust.

After delivering this sobering information to the British, Karski arrived in Washington in the summer of 1943 to bring the same message to President Roosevelt. Regrettably, the response of the American president was disappointing.

Also disappointing was his attempt to persuade the Jewish community to exert its political influence on the American government to help the Jews in Poland.

Karski presented the grim facts to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court -- a former presidential advisor and a Jew. Unfortunately, Justice Frankfurter bluntly told Karski "I am unable to believe you."

Even to this day, it still remains unclear if Frankfurter's rebuff to Karski came from a reluctance to even imagine the Germans could be so brutal and barbaric or if it came from some latent anti-Polish prejudice.

Because the Germans became aware of Karski's overseas mission and would execute him if he returned to Poland, he stayed in the U.S. and began his studies and eventual teaching career at Georgetown University. Mr. Karski died in 2000 at age 86.

The Consul General of Poland, Krzysztof Kasprzyk, presided at the street sign unveiling in cooperation with the Georgetown University Alumni Association.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent his greetings on the occasion. Former N.Y. Mayor Ed Koch was present to express his own personal tribute to Karski. Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka represented the president of Poland.

As long as three years prior to placing the street sign on Madison Avenue, the Polish Consulate enlisted the aid of the Downstate New York Division of the Polish American Congress as an intermediary to help navigate the varied municipal rules and regulations which had to be met.

"It was an honor for us to play a role in saluting the memory of such a remarkable humanitarian and hero like Jan Karski," said Chet Szarejko, who heads the Political Activities Committee of the Downstate N.Y. Congress.

Shown above expressing his thanks to the officers of the Downstate N.Y. Polish American Congress for their help in meeting municipal rules and regulations is Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk (third from left). 
With him are (from left to right): Chris Rybkiewicz; Frank Milewski; Consul Kasprzyk; Chet Szarejko; Richard Brzozowski and John Gmerek, chairman of the Holocaust Studies Committee of the Kosciuszko Foundation.

(Photo: Polish American Congress)

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