WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Barack Obama announced he will award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a former officer in the Polish Underground during World War II who was among the first to provide eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
President Obama said, “We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen—because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts; because so many others stood silent. But let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations. Among them was Jan Karski—a young Polish Catholic—who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself. Jan Karski passed away more than a decade ago. But today, I’m proud to announce that this spring I will honor him with America’s highest civilian honor—the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation. Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials. He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt. Karski published Story of a Secret State, earned a Ph.D at Georgetown University, and became a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Born in 1914, Karski became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.
Wanda Urbanska, Director of the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign, was notified recently of the President’s decision to award Karki with the Nation’s highest civilian honor. The remainder of the honorees selected by the President will be announced over the coming weeks and the awards will be presented at a White House ceremony later this spring.