Books by E. Thomas Wood

Released: Oct. 21, 1994

A lively, albeit not very scholarly, account of Jan Karski's role in the WW II Polish underground. From the very first chapter (which opens in August 1939), Tennessee journalist Wood and Polish journalist Jankowski glamorously build Karski, a Catholic Pole, into a hero by circumstance. The 25-year-old Karski, an aspiring diplomat and a lieutenant in the Polish Army, was traveling by train in his native land when the Blitzkrieg hit. Abandoning his boxcar, Karski wandered eastward until he literally bumped into Soviet forces, who captured and imprisoned him. From then on, the text recounts one exciting escapade after another during Karski's years of service as a secret agent for the Polish underground. As a chronological and factual account, this has many problems. Karski—on whose oral reminiscences the book is largely based—is the most fortunate of heroes, always one step ahead of the enemy, who is sometimes the Soviets and sometimes the Germans. (The Allied governments, which did not comprehend the dire straits of wartime Poland, come across almost as badly.) As it recounts Karski's diplomatic struggles to aid the Polish underground and to inform VIPs about the plight of Polish Jewry, the book offers little hard data, detail, or additional sources to substantiate his own account of his actions. The authors additionally fail to analyze any of the highly significant events in which Karski participated (including his role in smuggling out of Poland reports of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto). They portray Karski in broad strokes as a superhero: a man with unswerving goals, nerves of steel, and no apparent personal needs; a diehard diplomat in moral conflict with everyone but himself. It must be admitted, though, that their oversimplified saga is a real page-turner, with drama woven into every scene and an abundance of enjoyable anecdotes. Shallow, but exciting all the same. (8 pages of photos, not seen) Read full book review >