A devout Catholic who risked his life trying to warn the world about the horrific events occurring in Nazi death camps and the Warsaw ghetto is being honored posthumously with a concert at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda.
Jan Kozielewski, who was born in Poland in 1914, was jailed and beaten during the many undercover exploits in his attempt to tell the world firsthand of the horrors he witnessed. He met with President Franklin Roosevelt, Associate Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, hoping they would act.
“He is important not only to Poland, but also the United States. He is a very special person who was not only a war hero,” said Polish Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf. “He brought the message of the Holocaust, the conditions Jewish people were kept in the Warsaw Ghetto, but also a professor who taught tolerance.”
Schnepf’s country has declared 2014 as the Karski Commemoration Year. Karski is the name Kozielewski went by when he infiltrated the death camps and Warsaw Ghetto.
“He went where people couldn’t, wouldn’t go,” said Schnepf.
Kozielewski came to America following the war and attended Georgetown University, where he graduated and then went on to teach for many years. He died in 2000.
“I have enormous respect for him. There was an element of quiet fortitude,” said Georgetown professor Robert Lieber, who knew Kozielewski. In a world that has devalued the word hero, Kozielewski was a true hero, he said.
“He was a legendary figure on campus, somewhat formal. His students found him mesmerizing,” said Lieber, a professor of government and international affairs. “He was a person who conveyed a sense of depth and integrity and a sense of moral conviction.”
“What he did,” added Lieber, “almost literally, was superhuman.”
Both Lieber and Schnepf said that Kozielewski felt he failed to alert the world and do much to stop the slaughter. Schnepf was told that right before Kozielewski died, he recalled seeing a young Jewish boy lying on the road, dying, reaching out to him. But because Kozielewski was wearing the uniform of an Estonian guard at the time, he felt he could not become involved.
According to his own book, Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World, Kozielewski was a young diplomat when the war broke out in 1939. He was taken prisoner by the Soviet Red Army but escaped and became a member of the Polish Underground, acting as a liason and a courier between the Underground and the Polish government-in-exile. He was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and also entered the Nazi’s Izbica transit camp.
During his lifetime, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations and received honorary Israeli citizenship.
To honor the 100th year of his birth, pianist Brian Ganz and the National Philharmonic will perform March 8 and 9.
Ganz, who has been performing the works of Frederik Chopin since 2011 and intends to spend the next decade playing all his works at the Strathmore, said he had never heard of Kozielewski prior to being asked to play at this concert.
He said he was proud to be involved.
“His contribution to the Allies in World War II, and in consequence the whole world, was an incredible contribution,” said Ganz.
For tickets, go to nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore ticket office at 301-581-5100. Tickets for children 7 to 17 years old are free.