A statue honoring the memory of former Georgetown history professor Jan Karski was formally unveiled on Tuesday morning. The memorial, a life-size sculpture of Karski sitting on a bench playing chess, his favorite game, is located on Copley Lawn beside White Gravenor. The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Poland, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewics, attended the ceremony to dedicate the statue.
According to the Center for Polish Culture, Karski, a Roman Catholic, is well known for his actions during World War II. A Polish citizen by birth, he was vehemently opposed to the German invasion of his homeland. After escaping a Soviet detention camp, Karski joined the Polish Underground, a group that worked toward ending the Nazi occupation. During 1942, while undercover, he managed to visit a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. Later, he watched as thousands of Jews were loaded onto trains headed for concentration camps. Karski then traveled to England and the United States to alert world leaders of Nazi brutality. He was among the first people to provide Western nations with an eyewitness account of the mass atrocities. Karski’s 1943 book, Story of a Secret State, told about the parts of the Holocaust he had witnessed.
After World War II ended, Karski remained in the U.S. and studied at Georgetown, receiving his doctorate from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He stayed on at the university as a government professor until his retirement in 1984. Karski “was a very effective teacher . extraordinarily smart and sharp,” fellow government professor and friend John Bailey said. “He was someone who cared about his students.”
On a more personal level, Bailey said, “He was an old-world gentleman with a classic sense of humor.”
In addition to teaching, Karski was also a strong advocate for international justice. He spent most of his life urging for the democratization of Poland. Karski also continued his struggle against anti-Semitism in the world throughout his lifetime. Despite the fact that he was a Roman Catholic, he felt deeply connected with the people for whom he had risked his life. “All murdered Jews became my family . I am a Christian Jew,” Karski said at a 1981 conference organized by Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
Though many students did not know much about Karski, the statue provided an introduction to a figure from Georgetown’s history. “The statue is very nice. After seeing this memorial I definitely want to find out more information about this professor,” Alyssa Sheriff (MSB ’05) said.
“Georgetown University is extremely proud to be affiliated with Jan Karski’s heroic service to humanity and to have benefited so greatly from his dedicated service to our community. We are very pleased that this new memorial will remind those visiting our campus of his fearless defense of human dignity and the power of sharing truth,” Associate Director of Communications Doug Shaw said.
In addition to the statue at Georgetown, Karski will also be honored through the dedication of the Jan Karski Room at the American Center of Polish Culture, which will retain memorabilia related to his life and his struggle against the Holocaust. The center will also establish the Jan Karski Scholarship, for which it plans to raise $200,000, according to a press release.