The Holocaust Historiography Project

A Secret Report by Jan Karski

Theodore J. O’Keefe

One of the most durable and useful “eyewitnesses” to the alleged Jewish Holocaust has been the World-War-II Polish spy and propagandist who calls himself Jan Karski. The former courier for the Polish Underground, who was born Jan Kozielewski, wrote an account of his experiences in wartime Poland, Story of a Secret State, which was an American best-seller over forty years ago. Karski’s most recent hit was his appearance in the film Shoah (for which he has high praise despite its strident anti-Polonism), in which his agonized recounting of his doings in the Warsaw “ghetto” in 1942 won him additional laurels for his role as a “righteous Gentile.”

It has long been evident to revisionist scholars that Karski’s several accounts of his alleged visit to the German camp for Jews located near Belzec, some 80 miles southeast of Lublin, have lost favor among Exterminationist authorities. As Arthur Butz has pointed out, “a new and sanitized version of his story” appeared in Walter Laqueur’s The Terrible Secret. (note 1) Laqueur felt the need to explain Karski’s failure to see any gas chambers by stating that “apparently … these were walled in and could be approached only with a special permit.” (note 2) Karski was not asked about his Belzec visit during his interview by Claude Lanzmann in Shoah, and most recently Raoul Hilberg has cast severe doubt on Karski’s 1942 Belzec visit. “I would not put him in a footnote in my book,” stated Hilberg. (note 3) As revisionist researcher Mark Weber has lately written, Karski’s claim that Jews at Belzec were put on trains and shipped away from the camp is more consistent with the revisionist view of Belzec as a transit camp for Jews headed east than with the notion that Belzec was an extermination center. (note 4)

Not long ago a translation of a secret and before-that-time-unknown report submitted by Jan Karski to the Polish Government- in-Exile appeared in a Jewish scholarly journal published in New York City. (note 5) In the report, titled Zagadnienie Zydowskie w Rraju (The Jewish Problem in the Homeland), Karski provided revealing information about Jews and Poles under German and Soviet occupation, and even more revealing indications of his facility at distorting the facts in order to serve propaganda aims.

Karski’s report, which carries a handwritten notation “to be put to use,” was submitted to the Polish Govemment-in-Exile, at that time based in Angers, France, in February 1940. Karski had just returned from Poland, where he had been taken prisoner by the invading Russians, been handed over to German custody, and then excaped to the Polish Underground in the fall of 1939. According to his introduction to the report, which he composed on his arrival in Angers, he “did not make a special study of the Jewish Question while in the homeland.” (note 6) Nevertheless, Karski made some careful observations. After describing the situations of Jews in the pre- 1919 German territories annexed by the Germans in 1939 and in the German-occupied General Government, Karski portrayed the Jewish role in that part of pre-war Poland that fell to the USSR in 1939 as follows:

The situation of the Jews in these territories is fundamentally different. Above all, “there are no distinctions made here among nationalities or religious groups.” “Everyone finds conditions for work and the protection of the law.”

The Jews are at home here, not only because they do not experience humiliations or persecutions, but [also because] they possess, thanks to their quick-wittedness and ability to adapt to every new situation, a certain power of both a political and an economic nature.

They are entering the political cells; in many of them they have taken over the most critical political-administrative positions. They play quite a large role in the factory unions, in higher education, and most of all in commerce; but above and beyond even all this they are involved in loansharking and profiteering, contraband, foreign currency exchange, liquor, immoral interests, pimping and procurement.

In these territories in the vast majority of cases their situation is better both economically and politically than what it was before the war.

This applies first of all the the classes of petty merchants, artisans, proletarians, and the half-educated. The wealthier and more educated circles [owners of hotels, large plants, factories, stores, as well as lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.] are subject in principle to the same restrictions as a group, as are other nationalities within the Soviet system.

Karski went on to write of the Poles' attitudes towards the Jews in the Russian zone of occupation:

The attitude of the Jews towards the Bolsheviks is regarded among the Polish populace as quite positive. It is generally believed that the Jews betrayed Poland and the Poles, that they are basically communists, that they crossed over to the Bolsheviks with flags unfurled.

In fact, in most cities the Jews greeted the Bolsheviks with baskets of red roses, with submissive declarations and speeches, etc., etc.

However, one needs to insert here certain distinctions.

Certainly it is so that Jewish communists adopted an enthusiastic stance toward the Bolsheviks, regardless of the social class from which they came. The Jewish proletariat, small merchants, artisans, and all those whose position has at present been improved structurally and who had formerly been exposed to oppression, indignities, excesses, etc., from the Polish element — all of these responded positively, if not enthusiastically, to the new regime.

Their attitude seems to me quite understandable.

However, there are worse cases, where they [the Jews] denounce the Poles, Polish nationalist students, and Polish political figures when they direct the work of the Bolshevik police force from behind their desks or are members of the police force, when they falsely defame the relations [between Poles and Jews] in former Poland. Unfortunately it is necessary to state that such incidents are quite common, more common than incidents which reveal loyalty toward Poles or sentiment toward Poland.

After expressing his own sympathy for the wealthier and better educated Jews, Karski concluded that as to the Poles' feelings toward the Jews in the Soviet zone:

In principle, however, and in their mass, the Jews have created here a situation in which the Poles regard them as devoted to the Bolsheviks and — one can safely say — wait for the moment when they will be able simply to take revenge upon the Jews. Virtually all Poles are bitter and disappointed in relation to the Jews; the overwhelming majority [first among them of course the youth] literally look forward to an opportunity for “repayment in blood “

Karski devoted the remainder of his report on the Jewish problem in occupied Poland to a frank consideration of the effectiveness of German anti-Jewish measures in winning “the sympathy, recognition, and respect of a broad stratum among the Poles.” After claiming that the Germans' real goals in Poland vis-a- vis the Jews were “plunder” and “the duping of the Polish populace,” Karski summed up the situation as follows:

It must be admitted that they are succeding in this.

The Jews pay and pay and pay …, and the Polish peasant, laborer, and half-educated, unintelligent, demoralized wretch loudly proclaim, “Now then, they are finally teaching them a lesson.” — “We should learn from them.” — “The end has come for the Jews.” — “Whatever happens, we should thank God that the Germans came and took hold of the Jews,” — etc.

“The solution of the Jewish Question” by the Germans — I must state this with a full sense of responsibility for what I am saying — is a serious and quite dangerous tool in the hands of the Germans, leading toward the “moral pacification” of bread sections of Polish society.

It would certainly be erroneous to suppose that this issue alone will be effective in gaining for them the acceptance of the populace.

However, although the nation loathes them mortally, this question is creating something akin to a narrow bridge upon which the Germans and a large portion of Polish society are finding agreement.

It is certain that this bridge is no less narrow than the desires of the Germans to strengthen and reinforce it are great.

Moreover, this situation threatens to demoralize broad segments of the populace, and this in turn may present many problems to the future authorities endeavoring to rebuild the Polish state. It is difficult; “the lesson is not lost.”

Furthermore, the present situation is creating a twofold schism among the inhabitants of these territories — first, a schism between Jews and Poles in the struggle against the common enemy, and second, a schism among the Poles with one group despising and resenting the Germans' barbaric methods [conscious of the danger in this], and the other regarding them [and thus the Germans. too!] with curiosity and often fascination, and condemning the first group for its “indifference toward such an important question.”

Karski and his superiors were not about to leave matters there, however. Possibly to avoid offending the sensibilities of British and French officials who might come across the report, but far more likely as a basis for propaganda among Jews and Westem liberals, Karski prepared alternate versions of some of the most damning passages in his secret report, which were appended to the document. The appended passages represented the Poles as sympathetic to the plight of the Jews, and dismissive of German efforts to win them over through anti-Jewish measures. The following passage is a rewrite of the summary quoted above, and embodies what Karski and the Polish Government-in-Exile imagined (doubtless correctly) would be a more palatable, to Hitler’s enemies in the West, portrayal of Polish attitudes:

It is necessary to admit that only in one part are they necessary [sic] in this, while in the other part they are creating an affect precisely contrary to their intentions.

The Jews pay and pay and pay …, but the Polish populace more and more frequently and in ever wider circles is thinking out loud: 'This is already too much.” — “These are not people.” — “This must end with some horrible punishment for the Germans.

'The solution of the Jewish Question” by the Germans — this must be stated with a full sense of responsibility — is supposed to be in their hands and according to their plans a serious and quite dangerous tool, whether for winning over or for “morally pacifying” broad sections of the Polish populace.

Certainly it would be in error to suppose that they expect that this issue alone will be effective in gaining for them the acceptance of the populace.

They know that the Polish nation loathes them mortally, but at the same time they are convinced that this question will create something akin to a narrow bridge upon which the Germans and a certain portion of Polish society will fmd agreement.

They know further — and they rather expect this — that their methods with respect to the Jews threaten to demoralize broad segments of the populace, and this in turn will certainly present many problems to the future authorities endeavoring to rebuild the Polish state. They believe also that the present situation will create a twofold schism among the inhabitants of these territories — first, a schism between Jews and Poles in the struggle against the common enemy, and second, a schism among the Poles, with one group despising and resenting their barbaric methods [conscious of the danger in this] and the other [according the German expectations the great majority] regarding those methods [and thus, of course, their authors as well] with curiosity or fascination, and condemning the first group for its “indifference toward such an important question.”

At this moment it is difficult to say to what extent the Germans understand that this group is not large and will in the course of time become even smaller.

The Karski report, interesting in itself for its observations of the pro-Soviet activity of many Jews in that part of pre-war Poland occupied by the Soviets in September 1939, provides further evidence of Karski’s skill and lack of scruples as a propagandist. Indeed, Karski’s role as a propagandist, spreading mendacious “Holocaust” propaganda among the political leaders and press lords of American and Britain, was if anything more important to his superiors in the Polish Govemment-in-Exile than his activity as a spy and a courier. As his successor, Jan Nowak, wrote:

They way was opened for me by my predecessor in this role, Jan Karski. Endowsed with great political acumen, very inventive, and commanding excellent English, Karski had done excellent political and propaganda work on both sides of the Atlantic. He had talked with Churchill, Roosevelt, and a whole range of influential politicians, members of Parliament, and British and American newspaper columnists. His book The Story of a Secret State was a best-seller in America “I hope,” said Mikolajczyk [the Polish Interior Minister], “that you will turn out to be another Karski.” (note 7)

Through his continued activity as a self-professed eyewitness to the “Holocaust,” and his defense of Claude Lanzmann’s anti-Polish movie, the alleged."righteous gentile” Jan Karski seems to be carrying on his propagandist’s role for different interests.


1. Arthur Butz, “Perspective in the 'Holocaust' Controversy,"JHR, Vol. 3, no. 4 (Winter 1982), p. 388. Reprinted in Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, IHR, 1985, p. 352.

2. Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret, New York: Penguin, 1982, p. 231.

3. Interview by Emie Meyer, Jerusalem Post, week ending June 28, 1986, p.9.

4. “An Open Letter to Rev. Mark Herbener,” Christian News, April 27, 1987, p. 1.

5. David Engel, “An Early Account of Polish Jewry under Nazi and Soviet Occupation Presented to the Polish Govemment-in-Exile, February 1940,” Jewish Social Studies, Vol. XLV, no. 1 (Winter 1983), p. 1.

6. All quotations from the Karski report are taken from the translation presented in the the Engel article. Excerpts from a slightly different translation of Karski’s report lately appeared in a letter by the British historian of Poland, Norman Davies, which was published in The New York Review of Books, April 9, 1987 ("Poles and Jews: An Exchange").

7. Jan Nowak, Courier from Warsaw, Detroit: Wayne State University, 1982, p. 234.

Bibliographic information
Author: O’Keefe, Theodore J.
Title: A Secret Report by Jan Karski
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Winter 1986
Issue: Volume 7 number 4
Location: Page 504
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.