He sits alone in Manhattan, and he never moves from the sculpted park bench in front of the Polish consulate — no matter the time of day or the type of weather. His face appears kind but serious, and he sits alone. The sculptor made sure to leave enough space on the bench so that passersby can take time if they wish to chat with Jan Karski.
Karski clearly cannot reply. He has long gone to his final reward. He sits waiting for any of us to stop and to talk, and to learn.
Karski was the hero who was smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto by the Polish underground and who delivered an eyewitness report to the allies and to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
He told British and American officials what he had seen with his own eyes: starvation, death, bodies lying in the streets in a walled-off charnel house. It is reported that Karski pleaded for action. As the world knows, no one came.
He was also smuggled into a camp in the Lublin area of Poland. He saw what others refused to believe and some still deny.
This brave man before being smuggled across Europe from Poland to England and then to America, had served in the Polish army and in the organized resistance. Captured by the Nazis he was tortured and beaten, but he never gave up. He escaped, even attempting suicide to ensure he would never under the pain reveal secrets or compromise his comrades.
Once here, Karski remained. A return to Poland would have meant death. After the war ended, he organized, wrote, and rallied in the battle for a Poland free of communist dictatorship. He lost that battle just as he had lost the battle to save Poland’s Jews from oblivion.
This heroic idealist then taught at Georgetown University, wrote, and lived to see the communist dictatorship driven from his beloved nation.
In a speech given in 1981 delivered before Americans who had liberated concentration camps in World War II’s closing days, Karski said that he saw himself as having failed in his mission to spur the world to action. “I am a practicing Catholic . . . my faith tells me the original sin has been committed by humanity. This sin will haunt humanity to the end of time. And I want it to be so.”
Last week as the headlines and head-bashing and anger and shame and denunciations about the upcoming Iran pact vote dominated our news, I passed Karski, sitting on that bench. What would he have said about a regime, Iran, that kills, tortures, and enables others to do the same?
Iran’s allies kill innocents. Destroy lives. They have no conscience.
I wish the statue were able to speak. But it cannot. And that is our loss and if Karski could speak, telling us the truth, it would be our shame.
Hank Sheinkopf is an early creator of integrated strategic campaigns using all forms of media and has won national and international awards for his radio and TV productions. He is a veteran of more than 700 political, public policy, and public relations campaigns around the world. Read more reports from Hank Sheinkopf — Click Here Now.
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