Story of a Secret State

My Report to the World

Jan Karski
Foreword by Madeleine Albright

"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."
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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 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Albright, a biographical essay by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, an afterword by Zbigniew Brzezinski, previously unpublished photos, notes, further reading, and a glossary—is an apt legacy for this hero of conscience during the most fraught and fragile moment in modern history.

Table of Contents

Note on the Text

Publisher's Note



Biographical Essay of Jan Karski

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



Further Reading




"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

"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

"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

"Briskly paced, this is a gripping and immediate account of Nazi brutality from a brave leader of the resistance. (Starred Review)"—Publishers Weekly, 01/07/2013

"A disturbing, unique, invaluable record of Poland's suffering and heroism during World War II. A well-deserved revival of the author’s 1944 best-seller. (Starred Review)"—Kirkus Reviews, 01/15/2013

"Those who fear they have been desensitized by the sheer volume of information chronicling Nazi brutality in occupied Europe must read this memoir. . . . This is an exciting but often painful recounting of one man’s witness to terror and tragedy."—Booklist, 02/20/2013

"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

"A decade before Professor Karski began his remarkable tenure at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, he was already teaching by the power of example—with lessons of heroism, resilience, and uncompromising leadership. All freedom-seeking people around the world should know Karski’s story."—President Bill Clinton

"Jan Karski is well known as the 'courier from Poland who exposed the Holocaust,' but his work in the service of the underground Polish state, which flourished under the noses of the Nazis, equally deserves to find the limelight. Unlike its counterparts in other countries, The Polish Resistance Movement did not confine itself to military activities; it created a huge network of clandestine organizations, which functioned in the fields of culture, education, propaganda, justice and economics, and which undermined the social control of the German forces of occupation. Karski's book on this subject is a classic, providing an unmatched account of the wartime realities in a country that lay at the epicenter of the conflict."—Norman Davies, St. Antony's College, Oxford, Jagiellonian University, Krakow

"Within Jan Karski's stirring account of selfless heroism to expose the Holocaust, lie two compelling messages: It is possible for one man to bring to the world's attention unimaginable political evil. The harder and still relevant question raised by Karski's story is: How does one get the civilized world to respond?"—Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

"The Anti-Defamation League is proud to have named its Jan Karski Courage to Care award for an extraordinary man, who put conscience to action—and his own life at risk—to reveal the Holocaust to the West. Read his story and be inspired by Karski’s will, his spirit, and his commitment to humanity."—Abraham H. Foxman, national director, Anti-Defamation League

"The notion that one person can make a difference is personified by Jan Karski, who I was privileged to have as my professor—and guiding light—at Georgetown School of Foreign Service. Karski’s Story of a Secret State offers a glimpse into a time and place ruled by Nazi terror: Poland in the early 1940s. Karski risked his life to bear witness to Nazi atrocities against Jews, Catholics, and Polish dissidents. In disguise, he snuck into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi transfer camp, then reported his terrifying observations directly to British leaders and President Franklin Roosevelt, among the first reports of the holocaust to the civilized world. Georgetown’s edition of Story of a Secret State gives a new generation of readers the portrait of a genuine hero who truly made a difference."—Pat Quinn, Governor of Illinois; Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, 1971

"Jan Karski’s brave account of the Nazi’s horrific crimes and one man’s heroic resistance strikes our collective conscience as strongly today as when he first published it over six decades ago. Today, millions around the world continue to thank and honor him for exposing the evil that was perpetuated throughout concentration camps. When President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Jan Karski the Medal of Freedom he recognized that Karski’s story is one of courage as much as compassion. This book is a stirring reminder that our world depends on both."—Rahm Emanuel, Mayor, City of Chicago

"This gripping book gives a comprehensive account of the Nazi occupation of Poland by a young courier in the Polish Underground, who sought to bring home to Western statesmen the tragic fate of his country and of his Jewish fellow-citizens. It is essential reading for all those interested in the Second World War."—Antony Polonsky, Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University

"I have been blessed to know many distinguished people, great artists, musicians, scholars, philosophers, political leaders and activists. Yet I have only known one man, whom I would truly call noble, my late colleague, Jan Karski. Story of a Secret State is both his most important book and his most failed book; important, because as a messenger from Poland, Karski tried to tell the world of what was happening in his native land to the Jews whose pleas he carried forth to the West. It was a warning issued while there was still time to act, still an opportunity to rescue or at least to protest. His most failed book—though it was widely read and well received when published—because we did not listen attentively enough to what this great man had to say. We must listen now even though it is too late."—Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering Institute; Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University


Supplemental Materials


About 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.

464 pp., 6 x 9
19 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-1-58901-983-6
Mar 2013

464 pp., 6 x 9
19 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-1-62616-031-6
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464 pp.
19 b&w illus.
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