Where does such courage come from?
This is not just one man’s story of resistance in the face of tyranny and evil, it is the story of the resistance of a whole country. And I knew little of this history, of those Poles and the underground network, and their courage.
The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, and Poland, a country squeezed between aggressors (Russia and Germany) and brutally dealt with by both managed astonishing resistance between 39 and 45. Jan Karski, a young member of the intelligentsia and privileged class, was quickly arrested by the Russian army, initially, as Poland was mobilising to resist the German invasion. The early pact between Russia and Germany worked against the Polish people, who were fighting for their survival from the start. Karski’s own individual story, escaping by various means from both Russian, and later Gestapo capture, and smuggling the true story of ‘The Final Solution’ out of Poland and into the Polish Government in exile in the UK, is awe-inspiring enough, but his book recounts the astonishing heroism and fierce resistance which many Polish people were committed to, paying for their resistance with their lives.
The information Karski smuggled to the UK, used to show the free world the awful reality of the attempted liquidation of the Jewish people in Poland, and the risks he took, led, many years later to his recognition as ‘Righteous Among Nations‘ by the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel. More Polish people have been recognised in this way than any other nation
Tragically, despite the urgent and dreadful news of the atrocities of the camps, which Karski smuggled to England in 1942, the lack of photographic evidence meant that some of his accounts were perceived as ‘propaganda’.
Inevitably, such tales of resistance and heroism makes the reader wonder ‘could I have had such integrity, such courage, in the face of torture?’ I hope I never have to find out, but I fear not, personally. Which makes me awe-struck by this book, and the story of a courageous people
I’m interested in stories of individual and collective courage, without subscribing to any anti-nation view. Courage, and its opposite – apathy, surely, rather than cowardice exists potentially within us all. Individual and collective stories of acts of altruism, humanity and courage are inspirational. I know there are, sadly, quite a few biographical accounts of ‘how i bravely resisted’ which are proved to be spurious and willful inventions by the authors. Karski’s account is verified and interestingly, there is a modesty in these pages which itself points to veracity.