Rare book from 1943 acquired by Library and Archives Canada—was one of first sources to sound global alarm about Holocaust in progress

News release

Wednesday, January 27, 2021—Ottawa, Ontario—Today, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced the recent acquisition of one of the earliest sources about the Holocaust to reach the Allies during the Second World War.

The 16-page English-language report entitled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland was published by the Polish government-in-exile in early 1943.

This document contains Raczyński's Note by Edward Bernard Raczyński, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Polish government-in-exile. The note was originally addressed to Allied governments on December 10, 1942. The report is based on intelligence provided by the underground Polish Home Army’s Jewish Affairs Bureau, through their courier, Jan Karski. This document details the systematic mass murder of Polish Jews and reports on deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to concentration camps, including Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibor. This document was the first official report on the Holocaust to inform governments and the general public in Allied countries. 

As one of the first sources of information about the Holocaust to reach the Allies during the Second World War, this document holds an important place in the history of the conflict. Particularly, this document answers questions about what and when the Allies knew about the Holocaust. As Canada was one of the leading Allied nations during this period, these questions are important to our own understanding of the Holocaust and our country’s role during the war.

The acquisition of this book highlights LAC’s mandate to acquire material that reflects Canadian history, which includes preserving the memory of major historical events such as the Holocaust.

This acquisition was donated by a Toronto resident who is the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Quotes

“More than 75 years after it came to an end, humanity is still haunted by the Holocaust. Institutions like Library and Archives Canada have a duty to build the most complete record of events—no matter how horrifying—that have shaped the history of the world and of our country. It is our hope that through education and awareness, we will some day move towards a future where such tragedies only belong to the past.”

Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

“In addition to alarming the leaders of both the formally Allied states and more neutral powers, the publication was referenced by the most important media in the non-Axis world. It also led to the first case of Allied governments officially speaking out on behalf of the Jews suffering under Nazi occupation, referring to a “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.”

Piotr J. Wróbel, Professor and Konstanty Reynert Chair of Polish Studies, University of Toronto

Quick facts

  • The Jewish Affairs Bureau of the Home Army of the Polish government-in-exile and the Polish underground resistance provided the information in this report, with a large share of it coming from courier Jan Karski.

  • Karski, who twice infiltrated Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto and witnessed the transport of Jews to death camps, was nonetheless often met with skepticism regarding his reports of the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

  • Karski was twice smuggled out of Poland to deliver information to the Polish government-in-exile, once in 1940 and again in 1942. 

  • During his 1942 trip to the United Kingdom, Karski had meetings with the exiled Polish leadership, including Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski, President Władysław Raczkiewicz; with the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden; and with leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community.

  • Karski would continue his mission in 1943 by travelling to the United States, meeting senior leadership such as Secretary of State Cordell Hull and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with many senior civilian and military officials.  

  • Karski remained in the United States, publishing his memoir The Story of a Secret State in 1944 and eventually entering academia.

  • Other information sources about the Holocaust that reached the West included the Riegner Telegram, the Vrba–Wetzler report, the Witold Pilecki report, and accounts in various Jewish newspapers.

  • The book will be preserved in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, where other important items related to Holocaust remembrance reside.

  • LAC hopes that this book will become a tool for Holocaust remembrance and for fighting Holocaust denial and misinformation. (According to a 2019 study by the Azrieli Foundation, 15% of Canadian adults and more than one fifth of Canadians under the age of 34—22%—have never heard about or are not sure if they have heard about the Holocaust.)

  • Approximately 40,000 Holocaust survivors settled across Canada after the war. They and their descendants have helped shape Canadian society and make the country what it is today.

Contacts

Media Relations
Library and Archives Canada
819-994-4589
bac.media.lac@canada.ca

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