Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World

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Jan Karski's Story of a Secret State stands as one of the most poignant and inspiring memoirs of World War II and the Holocaust. With elements of a spy thriller, documenting his experiences in the Polish Underground, and as one of the first accounts of the systematic slaughter of the Jews by the German Nazis, this volume is a remarkable testimony of one man's courage and a nation's struggle for resistance against overwhelming oppression.

Karski was a brilliant young student, ...

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Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World

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Jan Karski's Story of a Secret State stands as one of the most poignant and inspiring memoirs of World War II and the Holocaust. With elements of a spy thriller, documenting his experiences in the Polish Underground, and as one of the first accounts of the systematic slaughter of the Jews by the German Nazis, this volume is a remarkable testimony of one man's courage and a nation's struggle for resistance against overwhelming oppression.

Karski was a brilliant young student, training to be a diplomat, when war broke out in 1939 with Hitler's invasion of Poland. Taken prisoner by the Soviet Red Army, which had simultaneously invaded from the East, Karski narrowly escaped the subsequent Katyn Forest Massacre. He became a member of the Polish Underground, the most significant resistance movement in occupied Europe, acting as a liaison and courier between the Underground and the Polish government-in-exile. He was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto, and entered the Nazi's Izbica transit camp disguised as a guard, witnessing first-hand the horrors of the Holocaust.

Karski's courage and testimony, conveyed in a breathtaking manner in Story of a Secret State, offer the narrative of one of the world's greatest eyewitnesses and an inspiration for all of humanity, emboldening each of us to rise to the challenge of standing up against evil and for human rights. This definitive edition―which includes a foreword by Madeleine Albright, a biographical essay by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, an afterword by Zbigniew Brzezinski, previously unpublished photos, notes, further reading, and a glossary―is an apt legacy for this hero of conscience during the most fraught and fragile moment in modern history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First published to instant acclaim in 1944, Karski’s memoir—supplemented here with photos, facsimiles, and a foreword by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright—tells of the four years (1939–1943) he served as the leading liaison officer in the Polish Underground during Nazi occupation. Only 25 in 1939, Karski recounts his work linking various aspects of the underground’s extensive administrative, political, and economic apparatuses, as well his capture and subsequent torture at the hands of the Gestapo (he likens being beaten by a rubber stick to “the sensation produced when a dentist’s drill strikes a nerve, but infinitely multiplied and spread over the entire nervous system”). After his capture, Karski was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto, where he was horrified to discover “hunger, misery, the atrocious stench of decomposing bodies, the pitiful moans of dying children.” He also briefly entered the Chelmno death camps, where he witnessed Jews being murdered in cattle cars through asphyxiation and burning by quicklime. Sent in 1942–1943 to London and Washington, D.C., where he met with British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and FDR, respectively, Karski delivered the first shocking eyewitness reports of the Holocaust to the Western world. Briskly paced, this is a gripping and immediate account of Nazi brutality from a brave leader of the resistance. Karski, who died in 2000, was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. B&w photos & illus. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"Stands in the absolute first rank of books about the resistance in World War II. If you wish to read about a man more courageous and honourable than Jan Karski, I would have no idea who to recommend." -- Alan Furst, author of The Polish Officer, reviewing a previous edition or volume

Kirkus Reviews
A well-deserved revival of the author's 1944 best-seller. A member of the Polish resistance after Germany's 1939 conquest, Karski (1914–2000) witnessed unspeakable Nazi behavior and the courageous response of his countrymen before traveling to Britain and the United States with the first news of the Holocaust. He was a popular, educated 25-year-old diplomatic officer mobilized days before Hitler's September 1 invasion. Caught up in the catastrophic rout, his unit retreated across the country and into the arms of the Red Army, which had invaded on September 17. Eventually transferred from a Soviet labor camp to a Nazi labor camp, he escaped and joined the fledgling Polish resistance. As a courier, he traveled through German lines to Paris to meet with the Polish exile government. He was caught by the Gestapo during his second mission and tortured to the point of attempting suicide. Rescued by the resistance, he spent months recuperating. Preparing for his third mission in 1942, he toured Poland at the request of Jewish resistance leaders and was a horrified witness to brutality and mass starvation inside the Warsaw ghetto and the early death camps. Karski traveled through Germany, France and Spain to London, where he delivered his report and microfilm evidence to Polish and British leaders before crossing the Atlantic in 1943 to do the same in the U.S. The mission received wide publicity, and many important figures urged action. Sadly, although Karski made his case personally to leading statesmen, including Franklin Roosevelt and Anthony Eden, the Allies did nothing. A disturbing, unique, invaluable record of Poland's suffering and heroism during World War II.
From the Publisher
"His wartime saga as officer, as Soviet prisoner, as escapee, in the hands of the Gestapo, and as a Polish Underground activist and courier, is beyond remarkable. In a world today where words such as 'courage' and 'heroism' have been so overused — applied freely from sports to entertainment to politics as to be rendered practically meaningless — Jan Karski was the rare human being who embodied both." — David Harris, Huffington Post, reviewing a previous edition or volume

"The story has all the characteristics of a spy-thriller — concealed film and suicide capsules, capture, interrogation, the drama of train travel and border checkpoints, the mysteries of those met, and countless convoluted escapes (a specialty of his)" — The Vienna Review

" Secret State is an indispensible and compelling historical document of World War II and the Holocaust, written by a supremely courageous humanitarian." — Tampa Bay Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781589019836
  • Publisher: Georgetown University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2013
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 633,469
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Karski was born in Łódź, Poland, in 1914. He received a degree in Law and Diplomatic Science in 1935 and served as a liaison officer of the Polish Underground during World War II. He carried the first eyewitness report of the Holocaust to a mostly unbelieving West, meeting with President Roosevelt in 1943 to plead for Allied intervention. Story of a Secret State was originally published in 1944, becoming a bestseller and Book of the Month Club selection. After the war, Karski earned his PhD at Georgetown University, where he served as a distinguished professor in the School of Foreign Service for forty years. He died in Washington, DC, in 2000. Karski has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In 2012, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

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Read an Excerpt

"In the words of James Russell Lowell's rousing hymn: 'Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.' Perhaps more than most of us, Jan Karski faced such a choice in the starkest of possible terms, and made his decision as courageously as one could.... Jan Karski was a patriot and a truth teller; may his words always be read and his legacy never forgotten." -- from the Foreword by Madeleine Albright

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Table of Contents


Foreword by Madeline Albright

Biographical Essay of Jan Karski by Timothy Snyder

1. Defeat

2. Prisoner in Russia

3. Exchange and Escape

4. Devastated Poland

5. The Beginning

6. Transformation

7. Initiation

8. Borecki

9. Contact between Cells

10. Mission to France

11. The Underground State

12. Caught by the Gestapo

13. Torture

14. The SS Hospital

15. Rescue

16. The "Gardener"

17. Propoganda from the Country

18. Execution of a Traitor

19. The Four Branches of the Underground

20. The Laskowa Apartment

21. Assignment in Lublin

22. Retribution

23. The Secret Press

24. My "Conspiratorial Apparatus"

25. The Liaison Women

26. Marriage per Procuram

27. School -- Underground

28. Parliament in Poland

29. The Ghetto

30. "To Die in Agony..."

31. Unter den Linden Revisited

32. Journey through France and Spain

33. My Report to the World



Afterword by Zbigniew Brzezinski


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Customer Reviews

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