Review: ‘Karski & the Lords of Humanity’ a moving look at a Polish resistance fighter during WWII

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“Karski & the Lords of Humanity” recounts the heroic actions of Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski (1914-2000), who was called upon by Polish Jewish organizations and the Polish government-in-exile to present evidence of Nazi crimes to the Allies.

To present Karski’s challenge, writer-director Slawomir Grünberg uses archival photographs and footage, limited animation and interviews with his subject and scholars.

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He recounts how Karski was poised to begin a diplomatic career when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Karski’s skill with languages made him an effective ambassador who met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He referred to Roosevelt as “a lord of humanity,” and he could imitate the president’s words and gestures decades after their meeting.

Although it is often moving, the film is less satisfying than it could be. Grünberg spends too little time on Karski’s achievements and too much documenting the Nazi atrocities, as though his audience needs to be convinced of their reality.

Karski believed his mission had failed, because the Allies did nothing to halt the slaughter. But his reports did move the British House of Commons to honor the Nazi victims and, more important, they influenced Roosevelt’s decision to create the War Refugee Board, which is credited with saving as many as 200,000 lives. The honors Karski later received, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President Obama awarded him posthumously in 2012, are reduced to a few lines at the end of the film.


“Karski & the Lords of Humanity.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hours, 12 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.