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Karski’s reports: the story and the history

Rappak, Wojciech; (2021) Karski’s reports: the story and the history. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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The widely disseminated view of Jan Karski sees him as a Polish resistance courier who left Warsaw on a clandestine mission to London carrying reports about the Holocaust to the West. It was late 1942, by then Nazi Germany had already murdered millions of Jews and it had become clear that unless the Allies acted, the Nazis would carry out their plan to murder all remaining Jews in Poland and other occupied countries. Deeply concerned about the Jewish tragedy, Karski risked his life carrying reports about the Holocaust across occupied Europe. He warned Western leaders, ‘all the way up to President Roosevelt’, and tried to persuade them to act. This was the central purpose of his mission: it is why Karski is sometimes described as ‘a man who tried to stop the Holocaust’. But his mission was a failure, the powerful Western allies did nothing to save the Jews, they were focused on winning the war against Germany, not on rescuing Jews. As Karski put it many years later: ‘the Jews were left alone to perish’. How accurate or true is this account of Karski’s actions? What historical evidence can be produced to support the claim that bringing news about the Holocaust was the central purpose of his mission? What reports about the Jewish tragedy did Karski bring to the West? How was their content communicated to Western leaders? What impact did they have? These are the broad questions pursued in this thesis which proposes to examine closely the archival evidence which the Karski story is based on. With some significant exceptions, most of the current literature on Karski is based on his later testimony. But our focus is not on the later accounts given by Karski but on what Karski actually did during the war. It is based on the original wartime documents, especially those written by Karski himself. These have often been used selectively to confirm the account of Karski as ‘the man who tried to stop the Holocaust’ rather than to examine his actions in the light of the documents. This thesis aims to restore the balance by adopting a critical approach to the story and by examining the historical evidence it is based on, arguing that much of the story is a myth, but a significant part of it is a true account of a courageous eyewitness who tried to include a message about the destruction of the Jews in Poland even though it was not central to his wartime mission.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Karski’s reports: the story and the history
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10128304
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