NEW YORK, May 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC applauds the conferral, posthumously, of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, on Jan Karski, a World War II hero who tried to alert the world to the Holocaust. The ceremony, led by President Barack Obama, took place today.
"Karski, a Polish Catholic, stands out as one of the towering figures of the war, indeed of the 20th century. A moral giant, he showed extraordinary courage and determination in his valiant effort to wake up a largely indifferent world to the plight of the Jewish people," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. 'We applaud the United States for paying tribute to this remarkable man. We only wish he could have lived to this day to receive the medal in person." He died in 2000.
Karski played a key role in Poland's resistance movement during the Second World War, and in seeking to focus world attention on the Nazi Final Solution against the Jews.
Having infiltrated the Nazi-run Warsaw Ghetto and the Izbica transit camp, he then clandestinely traveled across Europe as a courier for the Polish Underground. He reached Britain and the United States, where he met with top officials, including President Franklin Roosevelt. Tragically, his dire warnings about the fate of European Jewry went largely unheeded.
"We can only hope that the ceremony today will help ensure global awareness of who Jan Karski was, and the inspiring example he set for us all," Harris added. "During the war, Karski risked his life repeatedly to help his fellow man. After the war, he stood tall in the struggle for freedom and human dignity and against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. How privileged we were to know him! How much we miss his voice of principle and compassion!"
AJC honored Jan Karski with the organization's highest award in 1993. After his death, AJC named an award in his memory to pay tribute to those who exemplify moral courage.