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Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World (Penguin Paperback Classics) Paperback – 29 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014119667X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141196671
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Jan Karski's Story of a Secret State 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 honorable than Jan Karski I would have no idea who to recommend. Yes, it's that good. (Alan Furst )

It deserves its status as a Penguin Classic, not only because it is a great historic document, but also because it's a cracking good read: Karski's adventures are worthy of the wildest spy thriller (Nigel Jones Telegraph )

His account of his missions is an electrifying tale of false identities, near captures, spies and secret film capsules ... in human terms, Karski's account is invaluable (Frank Trentmann Daily Express )

Story of a Secret State is now viewed as a classic insider's account of the Resistance in occupied Europe...After all the harrowing descriptions of Holocaust horrors there have been over the years from survivors of Auschwitz, Belsen, and Ravensbruck, Karski's vivid account of what he saw back in 1942 is still deeply moving. We feel his shock and incredulity that this could really be happening in 20th century 'civilised' Europe. (Tony Rennell Daily Mail )

The bravery of the man who risked all to tell the world about the Holocaust is truly staggering ... an extraordinary testament to Man's inhumanity to Man, and the even more remarkable courage required to resist it (Ben McIntyre The Times )

Karski's exploration of the moral fog in which he and his colleagues operated ... made me recall thrillers like Man Hunt and Hangmen Also Die ... two episodes resemble scenes tantalisingly directed by Hitchcock ... Karski's account of the systematic brutality of the Nazi regime is literally chilling (Peter Conrad The Observer )

Reads like the screenplay to an incredibly exciting war movie - but it is all true (Andrew Roberts )

Seared with an urgency that pitches the reader into the heart of the horror (Ben Felsenburg Metro )

His story deserves not just revival but reflection ... Karski's electrifying words still speak only too eloquently for themselves (Marek Kohn Independent )

About the Author

Karski was his nom de guerre; he had been born Jan Kozielewski, the youngest of eight children, in Lodz, Poland's second-largest city, on April 24, 1914. Karski was a liaison officer of the Polish underground, who infiltrated both the Warsaw Ghetto and a German concentration camp and then carried the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to a mostly disbelieving Anthony Eden and Franklin Roosevelt.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Meynell TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 22 May 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This astonishing wartime memoir seems scarcely credible. There are moments where the narrative seems more at home in an airport spy thriller. Jan Karski (the author's resistance nom de guerre) was recruited into the Polish Underground early in his country's Nazi Occupation. We trace his many movements around Nazi-occupied countries made possible by clandestine mountain treks. We eavesdrop on his work as a crucial messenger between key leaders in exile and the resistance at home. In the course of this work, he met many key players on the Allied side and developed a fascinating relationship with the highly revered statesman, General Sikorski. We meet many brave individuals who did (often menial) tasks at great personal risk. So it is a gripping read. And even if there seem traces of exaggeration or hyperbole, the fact that this is essentially a true story makes it truly remarkable.

However, when this book was first published in the USA in 1944, it wasn't the author's exploits that made it hard to believe. It was his concluding chapters. For in these, Karski offered one of the first eye-witness testimonies of the Holocaust to reach the Allies. It seemed impossible to believe that such atrocity from such a civilised nation was conceivable, let alone achievable. Of course, today, all but the most determined holocaust deniers take it with the utmost seriousness. But then it was very different. Karski was all too aware of the problem. So as he took his report to the Polish government in exile in London, spoke to Allied leaders in London and Washington, he knew he had no alternative but to report as carefully and objectively as he could.

Karski knowingly took immense risks to bear his terrible witness.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Lost John TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 7 May 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When, in September 1939, Poland was invaded by Hitler from the West and Stalin from the East, Jan Karski was 25 years old. He was proficient in several languages, a diplomat by training and recent experience, and a reserve officer in the Polish army. He reported for duty one week ahead of the invasion, but Western Poland was quickly overwhelmed and Karski, with what remained of his regiment, trekked East - into Russian captivity. Posing as a private soldier (as an officer he would have been shot, probably at Katyn), he managed to achieve an exchange back into German-held territory, and escaped from a train carrying him to a labour camp. He joined the Polish Underground, which rapidly established itself to resist the invaders, maintain morale, and sustain contact with the Polish Government in Exile.

Karski served as a courier, slipping across the border to neutral territory and on to France. His first return trip was entirely successful, but on a subsequent foray he was picked-up by the Gestapo. He was lucky to escape with his life and fairly certainly would not have done so except that he was sprung by the Polish Underground - whose orders if the rescue failed were to shoot him.

His injuries and presumed notoriety with the Gestapo put him out of action as a courier, but he worked on information and propaganda, moving back to Warsaw and drawing close to top Underground officials. In the second half of 1942, it was agreed that he would make a new attempt to carry information to the Government in Exile, then located in London. He was anxious to take with him first hand information on the Nazi's systematic annihilation of Polish Jews. To that end he had himself smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and into what he believed at the time to be the Belzec death camp.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gareth Smyth VINE VOICE on 19 April 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jan Karski was a planner and courier inside the Polish World-War-2 underground who was deputed to make a report in 1942-3 on the state of resistance both to the Polish government-in-exile and to British and American leaders.

His commitment was, in his own words, a "faithful, concrete reproduction" and this is what he gave, both on the resistance and on his experience of the programme of mass murder of Jews (including his own visit to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and to the concentration camp at Belzec).

His style in writing the book, back in 1944, reflected this matter-of-fact, almost detached approach. This makes it alternatively powerful in its understatement and almost dull.

No doubt this detachment was Karski's means of survival: both through the horrors he experienced himself - his own torture by the Gestapo, the horrible deaths of friends and comrades, the degradation and extermination of Jews - and what must have been his moral abhorrence that the western leaders to whom he reported, including Eden and Roosevelt, took no action to halt the death railways into the Nazi extermination camps.

Of course, the detachment could never entirely overcome what Karski experienced, and the postscript by Andrew Roberts hints at the pain he subsequently endured. Karski wrote:

"The images of what I saw in the death camp are, I am afraid, my permanent possessions. I would like nothing better than to purge my mind of these memories. For one thing, the recollection of those events invariably brings on a recurrence of the nausea. But more than that, I would like simply to be free of them, to obliterate the very thought that such things ever occurred."

This is very much a first-hand account and therein lies its power as well as its limitations.
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