Early in Karski & the Lords of Humanity, a biographer describes his conversations with the Polish courier turned Underground hero Jan Karski as “encounters that took years off [his] life.”
It’s easy to understand why after being presented with archival footage of Karski himself, whose horror at what he saw in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere comes through in his intense, visceral speaking style. Karski is credited with informing Allied governments of the Nazis’ escalating efforts to exterminate all Jews, reports that were initially met with indifference and/or resistance.
Watching Slawomir Grünberg’s film, which is one of hundreds if not thousands made about the Holocaust, it’s difficult not to wonder if this story will ever finish being told — how daunting that something could be so extensively documented yet impossible to know in its entirety. In their abstraction, a number of striking animated sequences prove more effective in conveying these horrors than the talking-head segments that contextualize them.
Karski (who died in 2000 at the age of 86) was one of those figures so seemingly beyond reproach, so difficult to fully conceive of all these decades later, that standard documentary practices feel woefully insufficient in expressing the magnitude of his accomplishments; it would take almost as long to read his Wikipedia entry as it does to watch Grünberg’s movie about him.
Karski & the Lords of Humanity
Directed by Slawomir Grünberg
Opens November 27, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 24, 2015