Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
Last week New York City honored a Polish Catholic hero for his efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust.
It’s especially timely that New York City has just recognized Karski’s heroism by renaming the intersection of Madison Avenue and East 37th Street in Manhattan as “Jan Karski corner.”
That’s because next month Pope Benedict XVI will travel to the Holy Land. And anti-Catholic groups can be expected to try to spoil the occasion by recirculating their false claims that Catholics stood by and did nothing to help save Jews from Nazi Germany’s death camps.
In order to illustrate in the most personal way possible how false that claim is, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has launched a worldwide appeal for testimonies of Jews saved by Catholics during the Holocaust.
“During World War II, a great number of Catholic men and women in the European continent risked their own lives to save the Jews persecuted by the Nazis,” the foundation stated to Zenit news service. “Only a fraction of these saviors were duly recognized.”
The following is excerpted from the text of an April 19 press release by the Downstate New York Division of the Polish American Congress, detailing what one Polish Catholic — Jan Karski — did to try to save as many Jews as he could:
NY CITY HONORS POLISH HERO WHO TRIED TO STOP THE HOLOCAUST
The City of New York paid special tribute to the legendary World War II hero of both the Polish and the Jewish people by renaming the intersection of Manhattan’s Madison Avenue and East 37th Street “Jan Karski Corner.”
A ceremony unveiling the street sign was conducted at that intersection across from where the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland is located on April 16th.
Mr. Karski was a Polish Catholic diplomat of Poland’s government-in-exile in London while the country was under German occupation and served as a courier for the Polish Underground.
At the pleadings of Jewish leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, he carried out a secret mission to Great Britain and the United States to warn the Western Allies the Germans were conducting a campaign of genocide against the Jewish people and to urge them to take action to stop the Holocaust.
After delivering this sobering information to the British, Karski arrived in Washington in the summer of 1943 to bring the same message to President Roosevelt. Regrettably, the response of the American president was disappointing.
Also disappointing was his attempt to persuade the Jewish community to exert its political influence on the American government to help the Jews in Poland.
Karski presented the grim facts to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court — a former presidential advisor and a Jew. Unfortunately, Justice Frankfurter bluntly told Karski “I am unable to believe you.”
Even to this day, it still remains unclear if Frankfurter’s rebuff to Karski came from a reluctance to even imagine the Germans could be so brutal and barbaric or if it came from some latent anti-Polish prejudice.
Because the Germans became aware of Karski’s overseas mission and would execute him if he returned to Poland, he stayed in the U.S. and began his studies and eventual teaching career at Georgetown University.
Mr. Karski died in 2000 at age 86.
The Consul General of Poland, Krzysztof Kasprzyk, presided at the street sign unveiling in cooperation with the Georgetown University Alumni Association.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent his greetings on the occasion. Former N.Y. Mayor Ed Koch was present to express his own personal tribute to Karski. Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka represented the president of Poland.