Lipinski Leads Letter Urging President to Award Medal of Freedom to Dr. Jan Karski12/15/11
Today, Congressman Dan Lipinski and Congresswoman Nita Lowey led 66 members of the House of Representatives in sending a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to posthumously confer a Presidential Medal of Freedom on Polish-American Dr. Jan Karski. As a member of the Polish Underground operating in occupied Poland during World War II, Dr. Karski, who was Catholic, took extraordinary personal risks in order to investigate firsthand the atrocities being committed by the Nazis against European Jews. Upon returning from the front, he relayed what he had seen to Allied leaders in an attempt to mobilize an effort to stop the Nazis’ crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, his pleas fell mostly on deaf ears.
"Dr. Karski risked his life in order to personally witness the conditions inside the Warsaw Ghetto and at the Nazi Izbica transit camp, and then personally pleaded for action with Allied leaders," Congressman Lipinski said. "Had his pleas been heeded, countless lives might have been saved. His actions were exemplary, demonstrating the moral clarity and courage that the times demanded. There is no doubt he deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom."
Dr. Karski urged action in meetings with President Franklin Roosevelt, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, and others, but despite his best efforts achieved little progress in mobilizing a relief effort. In a further effort to spark action, he then published Story of a Secret State – his firsthand account of the Nazi’s actions in Poland. When the war ended, Dr. Karski immigrated to the United States, where he earned a Ph.D. from Georgetown University and educated generations of leaders as a professor at Georgetown for nearly 40 years before his death in 2000. While he was still alive, Dr. Karski received recognition for his actions from countries, organizations, and universities throughout the world. Among other honors, he was awarded honorary citizenship by Israel and Poland’s highest civilian award and premier military decoration.
"Dr. Karski recognized the danger of indifference and the moral necessity of action to stop the persecution of an entire people and the oppression of his native country," Congressman Lipinski said. "He waged a heroic individual battle against the Holocaust and the occupation of Poland. Though his efforts were thwarted, his actions are inspiring, unforgettable, and worthy of the highest honor."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor. Past recipients include Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr., Rachel Carson, Jimmy Stewart, Neil Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, and many others.