Leopold Unger honoured with the “Jan Karski Eagle” Award

Maria Zawadzka, 22nd July 2010
On July 13th, 2010, on the 10th anniversary of the death of Jan Karski, took place in the Royal Castle in Warsaw the ceremony of awarding this year’s “Jan Karski Eagle” award. It was given to the journalist Leopold Unger and to the former President of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, honoured for having made Poland a part of the European Union and NATO. After the ceremony, a discussion entitled “The Karski Lesson” took place, devoted to the mission of the legendary courier and the reasons why it did not achieve its main goals.

Leopolod Unger, journalist and essayist, was honoured – as the President of the Jan Karski Society Waldemar Piasecki said – for “bringing the light of the truth to Poland”. Unger devoted over 60 years of his life to journalism. He was the collaborator of the newspaper „Życie Warszawy”, and the Belgian daily „Le Soir”, the Paris „Culture”, the Radio Free Europe, the Polish section of the BBC radio, the „International Herald Tribune” and „Gazeta Wyborcza”. He was born in 1922 in Lwów. On September 17th, 1939 he found himself in exile in Romania – he was 17 years old. In March 1968, when he lost his job, he emigrated to Belgium. Leopold Unger is, among others, author of the books “Z Brukseli” (“From Brussels”), “Intruz” (“Intruder”) and “Wypędzanie szatana” (“Expelling Satan”). On June 8th, 2009 he was awarded with the Ksawery and Mieczysław Pruszyński prize of the Polish PEN Club. On June 30th, 2009 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska in Lublin. Because of health problems, he was not able to come to the ceremony.

As the editor-in-chief of “Tygodnik Powszechny”, rev. Adam Boniecki emphasized, the “Jan Karski Eagle” award is a great honour and Jan Karski, Righteous Among the Nations, should become an authority and example for all Poles. Among other laureates of the award are: Elie Wiesel, Marek Edelman, Józef Tischner, Jacek Kuroń, Wiktor Juszczenko, bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, Oriana Falacci and „Tygodnik Powszechny”. The award was funded in 2000 by Jan Karski himself. It is given to people who “are duly saddened by the fate of Poland (…) and to those who, not being Poles, are not indifferent to our country”.

This is what Leopold Unger wrote about Jan Karski in his speech, which he was not able to deliver in person: “The Polish courier Jan Karski made it impossible for any Western government to deny that it learned the truth about the Holocaust. And that until this day these governments cannot excuse themselves for their decisions. It is a great lesson. Not a lesson of history. A lesson of politics. And a warning. A warning emphasizing the truth expressed by Aldous Huxley: the fact that humanity is not able to learn the lessons of history is the most important lesson of history. This is what Jan Karski wanted to show us”.