Karski was a renowned Polish diplomat who played an instrumental role in Poland's anti-Nazi resistance movement during the Holocaust, and in seeking to focus world attention on the Nazi Final Solution against the Jews.
"Jan Karski stands out as one of the towering figures of World War II. A moral giant, he showed unbounded determination and courage to focus attention on the annihilation of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland," said AJC Executive Director David Harris.
During World War II, Karski, who clandestinely traveled across Europe as a courier for the Polish Underground, presented eyewitness accounts to British and American officials, including President Franklin Roosevelt. Tragically, his dire warnings about the fate of European Jewry went largely unheeded.
In 1944, warned that the Nazis were looking for him, he settled in the U.S. and later became a distinguished professor at Georgetown University. He also authored a remarkable book, "Story of a Secret State," that became a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.
In 1993, AJC gave Karski its highest award, the American Liberties Medallion, and, following his death, established an award in his memory.
Harris, who knew Karski in the 1980s and 1990s, served on the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign, which has advocated for the presidential award announced today.
Obama made the historic announcement during an address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In his speech, the President spoke of the collective responsibility to teach children about the Holocaust and to take firm actions to prevent genocide.
"'Never again' is a challenge to reject hatred in all its forms – including anti-Semitism, which has no place in a civilized world," said Obama.
The President reaffirmed his support for Israel, rejection of all efforts to equate Zionism with racism, and his pledge that "the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
Referring to the human rights abuses and violence in a number of countries around the world, Obama announced new steps to prevent and respond to mass atrocities.
The Atrocities Prevention Board, established by Obama, and comprising officials across the government, is convening for the first time today. In addition, the president announced that the intelligence community will prepare "the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the risk of mass atrocities and genocide."
AJC's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights has been a leading advocate for such a governmental initiative.
"In short, we need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities – because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your own people," said Obama.