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Summary

I do not pretend to have given an exhaustive picture of the Polish Underground, its organisation and its activities. Because of our methods, I believe that there is no one today who could give an all-embracing recital...This book is a purely personal story, my story.

Jan Karski's Second World War memoir is a heroic act of witness: the courageous testimony of a man who risked everything for his country. First published in 1944, the book became an instant best seller in the US while the war still raged in Europe. At times overwhelming in the details it reveals of the suffering of ordinary people, it is an unforgettable and deeply affecting record of brutality, courage, and survival under conditions of extreme bleakness.

During the first four years of World War II, Karski worked as a messenger for the underground, risking his life in secret missions. He was captured, tortured, rescued, smuggled through a tunnel into the Warsaw ghetto and, finally, disguised himself as a guard to infiltrate a Nazi death camp. Then, travelling across occupied Europe to England, with his eye-witness report smuggled on microfilm in the handle of a razor, he became the first man to tell the Allies about the Holocaust - only to be ignored.

©1944 Jan Karski (P)2011 Penguin Books Ltd

Critic reviews

"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." ( Daily Telegraph)
"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)
"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)
"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)

What listeners say about Story of a Secret State

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

the accent lets it down

Do not get me wrong this book is so interesting - given the subject I cannot say enjoyable -and I would recommend it to everyone. It is let down though by the narrator with his heavy accent. Okay I know it was written by a Pole but does it have to be read with this accent. The first part of the story, where things move slower I dropped off a couple of times because of his almost hypnotic slow reading. Later it the book that is no problem but you are left with his mispronunication. Sometimes I just wondered what on earth he had said. Apart from that, the book gives a clear and awful view of what Poland and the underground, and the Jews from that country went through. When he describes visiting one death camp I was crying and had to stop reading for a while. Having visited several concentration camps I thought I had an idea about the fate of these poor people but the description of the train from that camp stays in my mind.

4 people found this helpful

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Courage beyond Calling

Would you consider the audio edition of Story of a Secret State to be better than the print version?

Couldn't comment as haven't read print version.

What did you like best about this story?

Jan Karski himself. Sounded such a brave and noble man.

What about Janusz Guttner’s performance did you like?

Yes it was as if Jan Karski was himself telling the story to you in a conversation.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

His visit to the Warsaw Ghetto and the concentration camp. His visit to his sister and the fate of the liaison women.

Any additional comments?

This is a remarkable story by a remarkable man. It really should be read.

1 person found this helpful

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A must read for every human

True story, about WWII Europe and various societies facing German terror. Most importantly the sad reality about western allies indifference towards Holocaust.

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Hero

Jan Karski is my hero, listening to this book was like listening to Karski, the narrator was perrfect, Karski would have loved this, I'm sure of it.

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  • David
  • 20-10-11

Outstanding

What a story ! The author was certainly a hero and deserved all the recognition given to him.
I would hope that this book will be listened to by many.
Highly recommended.The authors' modesty, courage,loyalty and dedication shine throughout the book.How proud I would be to have known him.
Excellent narration,the fact that the narrator has a mid-European accent to his English added flavour and reality,as though the author himself were relating his testimony from those dark days.Lest we forget.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Marje
  • 06-04-14

Magnificent, Spellbinding, Intriguing, Inspiring


In short, this is a thrilling read.

The former Foreign Minister of Poland Władysław Bartoszewski in his speech at the ceremony of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 27 January 2005, said:

"The Polish resistance movement kept informing and alerting the free world to the situation. In the last quarter of 1942, thanks to the Polish emissary Jan Karski and his mission, and also by other means, the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the United States were well informed about what was going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau."

Among much recognition and adulation bestowed upon him, Jan Karski, posthumously, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama on April 23, 2012.

See the write-up at wikipedia under "Jan Karski."

The narrator, Janusz Guttner, was brilliant... the best choice to read this magnificent book.

I cannot recommend this listen enough.

2 people found this helpful

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  • K. Green
  • 07-01-21

Amazing look at the Polish Underground during WWII

The author takes you from start to finish during his time in the Polish Underground with detail and passion. Amazing story!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 18-09-19

History will always repeat itself!

I loved this narrative. The truth and the atrocities of the Nazi regime should always be remembered never forgotten. this is a first-hand account of the Polish underground during World War II. a strong godly people not willing to be crushed,

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  • Harold S. Geller
  • 03-08-15

So much to learn about Poland and world war 2

Jan Karski was truly a hero of World War 2 his story gave me insights that make me want to continue the exploration of my Polish background, and the current efforts for Jews to better understand the role of Polish resistance during the war.

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  • Freddy Bastiat
  • 30-12-14

Excellent.

Exciting and gripping as well has heart breaking. I enjoyed the narrator as his Polish accent gave an extra level of authenticity when listening.