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Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  890 ratings  ·  125 reviews
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. 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Albright, a biographical essay by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, an afterword by Zbigniew Brzezinski, previously unpublished photos, notes, further reading, and a glossary — is an ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 15th 2013 by Georgetown University Press (first published 1944)
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Average rating 4.39  · 
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As the resident Pole on Bookmunch I have received this book for reviewing and now I am afraid I won’t do it justice. Going through years of the Polish education system, I didn’t think I wanted or needed to know anything more about World War II, the occupation, the Gestapo or the Holocaust. I was wrong. Jan Karski’s Story of a Secret State should be a compulsory read for everyone. I am not saying this because I am Polish and we like to inform the whole world about our heroic, albeit forgotten dee ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
Now, this one was extremely good.
And it's hard to believe how "Story of a Secret State" had to wait for so long before being re-published.

Jan Karski - a nom de plume, pardon d'action - wrote this book with the extreme urgency of a man who has just managed to get through four years of war, starvation, captivity and, on the top of it, a dangerous clandestine patriotic activity.
A brilliant combination, isn't it?

Nevertheless, "Story of a Secret State" is written very well with its author never claim
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’m embarrassed to have never heard of Jan Karski until now. His story truly reads like something out of a movie - tortured by the Gestapo, snuck into both the Warsaw Ghetto and a concentration camp, and finally escaping to tell his story in the West, I was utterly captivated by Karski’s exploits at every turn. Equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking, this is a book that’ll stick with me.
'Jan Karski' was not the man's original name. It started out as his nom du guerre, and remained as his name for the rest of his life.

Early in this book, Karski mentions that while retreating at the beginning of the war, he stopped over in what was then known as the village of Oswiecm. Later, of course, it developed much greater notoreity as the nearest town to the camp that later was named Auschwitz.

I first learned of Karski because, as a courier from the Polish Underground to the Polish governm
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First note, March 6, 2015:
Having reached page 130 of 494 pages in the Dutch edition, which has over 50 pages endnotes and an afterword by Céline Gervais-Francelle, I am already impressed, not only by the story itself, but also by the careful way the author has written his autobiography. And the most adventurous and horrendous parts still have to come.

Overall, March 16, 2015:
The story is about willpower, dedication for the country, motivation, structuring and organizing, adventurous excitement, n
Bob Petry
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing biography. There is enough action, political intrigue, and horror for 3 or 4 movies. An unbelievable true story of a man secretly and abruptly called to war from his world of elite society parties. Captured by the Russians, he escapes by posing as a working-class private right into a German cattle car enroute to a "camp." Escaping from the Gestapo multiple times, Karski finds himself as courier, spy and propagandist in the Polish underground. At one point he even sold bonds fo ...more
Paul Doucette
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed the book. It's written by a professor, sadly now deceased, of mine at Georgetown. Karski has got to be one of the few people smuggled into and out of the Nazi death camps in Poland. He eventually gained a private interview with FDR, giving the President undeniable proof of what the Nazis were doing in the death camps. Sadly the allies did not act on Karski's information.
Beth (bibliobeth)
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most intriguing and exciting books about World War II, primarily the Polish resistance, that I have read. The bravery and determination of Karski is outstanding, his tale-telling superb, and it made for quite an emotional read.
derek allard
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a feel good story don't even think about picking this book up. But if you're looking for a different perspective on World War II this is your book. Told from the author's first person perspective it chronicles his experiences in the Polish Underground as they attempted to fight the German (and Russian on the eastern border) occupations. It's a dark and troubling book. The last few chapters cover his time in the Warsaw ghetto and one of the concentration camps. His descripti ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible book. The story of an underground agent in WWII Poland, who experiences kidnapping, torture, witnesses death camps, the Warsaw ghetto, and describes it vividly. It reads like an adventure story, except it's all real and teaches you a lot about the German occupation of Poland. Can't recommend this enough
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I was a child my Grandad used to enthral me with stories from his life. Being young in the early 1970's WWII was still fresh for many. My Grandad had a special sympathy for POland, he's never been to Poland but I remember him frequently referring to the "poor Poles" and how they had struggled, suffered and been betrayed as a nation. I suppose that is where my interest in this complex and historically important player on the European scene started. I think that to many people Poland is "just ...more
Oct 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account, published in 1944, of Poland in the Second World War. Author Jan Karski was a handsome young gentleman enjoying life, working on his doctorate in demography, the science and statistics of populations, when Hitler invaded Poland. His amazing transformation from wealthy citizen/student to cavalry officer to spy/saboteur is detailed as the Polish Underground was formed to fight the Nazi presence. Unlike the Russians (See the Gulag Archepelago), the Polish did love freedom eno ...more
Patrick Neylan
Nov 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Patrick by: Amazon Vine
For all the praise it's received, Story Of A Secret State isn't an action-packed read. Karski was more of an administrator in the Polish underground than a fighter, so anyone looking for stories about raids, sabotage and armed resistance might be a little disappointed. Also, the book is a reprint of what he wrote in 1943-44, so it lacks the perspective that comes from our fuller knowledge of events that only came to light after the war. Most obviously, he only has the haziest notion of how fortu ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Story of a proud Polish patriot who began working for the Polish Underground and helped establish the Polish Government-in-exile during the German occupation of World War II.

He goes from a life of privilege as a 25 year old officer in the Polish army to a life of hiding, subterfuge and at times, exhausting anxiety borne from love of country.

When captured and tortured by the Gestapo: "I had to persist in my story as if it were a magical incantation that would prevent me from blurting out the dama
Rachel Choate
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book while doing a study of resistance to Hitler. This narrative of the Polish underground is phenomenal. I often had to remind myself that it is nonfiction. I was amazed at the amount of detail he was able to print in the midst of the war. Karski's account of the work he and others did to thwart the Nazi occupiers reads like a espionage novel complete with fake passports, double agents, bumbling villains and prison escapes. His writings about the Warsaw ghetto and his visit to ...more
Apr 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a man, what a time to be such a man, and thank God for such men
Roderick Hart
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These are the memoirs of a Polish officer during World War 11. Captured by the Soviets then exchanged into the custody of the Germans, he escapes from a train taking him to a labour camp or worse and makes his way to Warsaw where he is recruited into the Underground.

At first he works as a courier, conveying information from the Underground to the Polish Government in Exile, then in France. Since this involves travelling through several occupied countries with forged papers it is risky and eventu
Susan Lerner
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poland
Jan Karski was a member of the Polish underground resistance movement in World War 2 whose job it was to take reports from leaders of the resistance movements (there were several) in Poland and report to the government in exile in London and eventually to FDR himself. He ultimately stayed in the US and wrote this book before the war was over, in part to improve the image of the Polish people by showing how they resisted the Nazis and also to make the world aware of what was happening to the Jews ...more
David Lowther
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Story of a Secret State is a very interesting account of the travails of a member of the Polish underground during the first few years of the Second World War. Jan Karski was in his early twenties when he became involved and quickly rose to become an important messenger and liaison man.

His book, first published in 1944, tells of the courage and determination of the Polish people in the face of appalling adversity from their Nazi occupiers. Karski himself is captured and tortured by the Gestapo q
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely riveting. Jan's story and the story of the Polish Resistance during WWII is incredible. They daily acts of defiance and sacrifice of the Polish people were inspiring, and every time I opened this book I was completely moved. Yes, the story alone is thrilling, but what makes this book so wonderful is the way that Jan writes his account. The nature of his work led him to brief encounters with all kinds of people, and I found myself loving every one of them (with the except ...more
Sara G
Sometimes, I find it hard to rate books like this. It was a decent read, although it dragged in parts, but the story it told was so fantastic and meaningful that I can't do anything but give it 5 stars. Jan Karski is a lesser known hero of WWII, in my opinion. He managed to survive for years as part of the Polish resistance, then managed to sneak out of Poland to present reports about what all had been going on under the Nazi regime to both the Polish government in exile in London, as well as th ...more
Mary Christensen
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book tells an almost unbelievable story about the early extermination camps in Poland as seen first hand from a member of the emerging Polish resistance. If possible, it is worse than Schindler's List, etc...

As I read this book, two things kept coming to mind, the futility of resistance - they pretty much are all tortured and killed, on the other hand why didn't more regular people resist? Think of how much worse things might have been without the stubborn resistance of the Russians and the
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
What an amazing book. I have read a great many books on the history of the War, and particularly about the conduct of the Germans. I even thought I knew a little bit about Poland before, during and after the war. And yet I never heard of this wonderful book, a factual and unvarnished personal narrative. Part a personal history (reads like an unbelievable adventure story), part an overview of the mission and structure of the Polish Underground and resistance (a bit repetitive at times), and a bri ...more
Sarah Gatewood
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Finished this book the other day. This book was mentioned in another book I read and I decided to check it out. This is a substantial book at over 360 pages not including the foreward. I found this book barely covered The Holocaust and instead focused on The Polish Underground during World War II. Jan was a member of the Polish Underground and was a courier. Eventually he would have different positions in the Underground before he would leave Europe to tell the world of what he saw. There are so ...more
Alicia Devero
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am not an ignorant in this field - the events of WWII - but it is probably the very first time when the images painted by Jan Karski - a direct witness to human misery and suffering, who risked visiting Warsaw's Getto and nearby Death Camps in occupied Poland - will forever hunt my mind ...

Yet, one must crave for that old world marked by deep sense of patriotism, devotion, dedication, compassion, love & sacrifice ...
Terri Lynn
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a top-notch work of non-fiction by a hero of mine, Polish Catholic Jan Karski, who risked his life during the Holocaust as a courier and spy for the Polish government in exile and to desperately try to get powerful nations like the USA to intervene on behalf of the Jews without luck (FDR was a Jew hating bigot). Powerful stuff.
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author, a member of the Polish Underground during World War II, wrote this memoir of his activities during the war, particularly his efforts to bring the world's attention to the Holocaust. It is written like a novel, and reads very well, although some parts are a little slow. It is a fascinating insight into a troubled time in history.
Megan Hanning-Bean
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Never can I imagine going through what Jan Karski went through, let alone being so strong and courageous as he. The book awed and amazed me, brought me to tears, made me re-think humanity and gave me the utmost respect for the Polish people. This is a must-read, especially if you revel in the history of WWII and the untold heroes who lived it.
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am absolutely staggered by the heroism and suffering Jan Karski describes in this truly harrowing book. The moment I finished, I said ‘my god’ and had to contemplate what I had just read.

My words can not do this book the justice it deserves, so I will merely state that if you are presented with the opportunity to read this, take it.
Michelle King
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jan Karski’s situation was distressing. The historical summary in 33 chapters of Poland during the Holocaust provides upsetting insight and information. With a foreward from Madeleine Albright, a Jan Karski historical bio and a postscript, the book provides information and details, though distressing.
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Jan Karski (born Jan Kozielewski) was a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter and later professor at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943 Karski reported to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies on the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the secretive German-Nazi extermination camps.
After the war Karski entered the

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“My dear girl,' I answered in high spirits, for I felt elated at being active again. 'You are about to witness the birth of an immortal literary masterpiece. In a few moments, I shall begin the composition of an eloquent letter. This letter is going to be received by everyone in the Reich who has a Polish name. Or at least that is what shall try to accomplish. We want to remidn everyone of Polish origin that, although they are nominally German, Polish blood continues to flow in their veins.'
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