The documentary Karski & The Lords of Humanity has its premiere on November 24 at the JCC Manhattan and will screen at NYC’s Cinema Village starting on November 27. It tells the story of Jan Karski (1914-2000), a Roman Catholic member of the Polish underground movement during the Second World War who took it upon himself to witness the extermination of his country’s Jewish population and then to reach London and Washington, where he presented details of the emerging Holocaust to leaders, including FDR.
Filmmaker S?awomir Grünberg blends interview and archival footage with animation to depict Karski’s amazing exploits. Inspired by the award-winning film Waltz with Bashir (2008), Grünberg tasked Polish animator Tomasz Nied?wied? with creating scenes that depict the often-horrific experiences Karski survived.
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Captured in June 1940 on a clandestine mission to carry information from Poland's underground army to the West, Karski undergoes savage Gestapo torture.
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Fearing he will divulge the underground's secrets, Karski attempts suicide by slashing his wrists. As the blood flows, he loses consciousness.
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After the Gestapo revives the prisoner and transfers him to a hospital under guard, he makes contact with the underground. His fellow conspirators send him instructions: On the signal of a sympathetic doctor, go to a stairwell window. In case their escape plan fails, they also send him cyanide. Naked, Karski leaps into the arms of the rescue team.
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September 1942: In a bombed-out Warsaw house, Jewish leaders plead with Karski to tell the world what is happening to their people.
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Having toured the Warsaw Ghetto disguised as a Jew, Karski dresses as a guard and witnesses further horrors in eastern Poland at a transit camp where victims await transport to the gas chambers.
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Karski crosses Nazi-occupied Europe in the guise of a French laborer returning home from Poland. He speaks excellent French, but in order to hide his heavy accent from other Frenchmen on the train, he feigns dental problems.
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In London, early in 1943, Karski meets with British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who expresses admiration for the young Pole but appears dismissive of reports about the mass-murder of Jews.
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Karski carries the desperate pleas of the Jewish leaders in Warsaw to their counterpart in London, Szmul Zygielbojm. In May 1943, as a protest against Allied inaction on the killings of Jews, Zygielbojm commits suicide.
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On July 28, 1943, in a secret White House meeting, Karski tells President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Jewish population of Poland is in grave danger of complete extermination. The president appears more interested in talking about Polish agriculture.
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In the last two decades of his life, Karski breaks a bitter vow of silence he took at war's end, when his efforts seemed to have been a failure. He begins giving talks and granting interviews, bearing witness once more, as the opening of wartime archives reveals that his missions may well have led to the saving of lives.