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Contact: E. Thomas Wood, +1 615-298-4716
Wiesel: Karski “deserves to be left in peace.”
Nashville, 20 Feb. 2012 — Upon discovering that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has posthumously baptized Righteous Gentile Jan Karski, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has denounced the acts of the Mormon Church, and Karski biographer E. Thomas Wood has called on it to remove Karski’s name from its database of the baptized dead.
“He was a hero for thousands of people, and it’s simply unfair to do that to his name and to him,” Wiesel said, in remarks he authorized Wood to make public. “He deserves better than that. He deserves to be left in peace.”
Karski (1914-2000), a devout Roman Catholic, survived Soviet captivity and Gestapo torture to bear witness to the emerging Holocaust in Poland. In 1942, as an operative of the Polish underground movement, he volunteered to tour the Warsaw Ghetto and a concentration camp in disguise. He then crossed occupied Europe to carry news of the ongoing genocide to senior Allied leaders in London. He later met personally with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.
Wood, a Nashville journalist, and Polish historian Stanislaw M. Jankowski collaborated to write Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (Wiley, 1994).
Salt Lake City researcher Helen Radkey uncovered the fact that LDS members had conducted “ordinances” in Karski’s name. She found church records indicating that the proxy baptism took place in December 2010, followed by two further ceremonies in the post-mortem sanctification process in 2011, and that a Church member took part in an “endowment” ceremony in Karski’s name earlier this month.
Wood had contacted Radkey after the revelation last week that the Church had placed Holocaust survivor Wiesel on a list of people to be considered for proxy baptism after their deaths. It also emerged that LDS members had posthumously baptized the parents of the late Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
Wood’s message calling on LDS officials to remove Karski’s name from their database is reproduced below. The following links provide context on this situation:
Audio excerpts from Wood’s interview with Wiesel on Friday, 17 Feb. 2012
Screen-shot from the LDS database showing “ordinances” performed in Karski’s name
Photos of Wood and Karski together
Economist obit of Karski, July 2000: “The comparisons drawn between Jan Karski and Oskar Schindler are not fanciful.”
—— Forwarded Message
From: “E. Thomas Wood” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2012 11:54:15 -0600
Conversation: Proxy baptism of Jan Karski
Subject: Proxy baptism of Jan Karski
To: Eric Hawkins
Print Media Spokesperson
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Dear Mr. Hawkins:
I’m the co-author of Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (Wiley, 1994), and I considered Professor Jan Karski a great friend and mentor. As you may be aware, he survived both Soviet captivity and Gestapo torture to bear witness to the extermination of Poland’s Jews, carrying some of the first news of the Holocaust to London and Washington in 1942-43. He ultimately met with President Roosevelt at the White House, but he judged his mission a failure because the Western allies refused to take action to stop the slaughter.
Professor Karski was a devout Roman Catholic all of his life. He used to speak wistfully about belonging to a secret society for the veneration of the Virgin Mary as a child and about his constant obsession at the time with how he would “make it to heaven.” His faith impelled him to acts of profound moral and physical courage during the war. For more than three decades, he was on the faculty of Jesuit-affiliated Georgetown University. At his funeral in July 2000, eight priests took part in administering the last rites of the faith he embraced to the death.
I have just discovered that LDS Church members have posthumously put Professor Karski through the full range of the Church’s holy rites. He was baptized in December 2010 (conveniently, the year after his 95th birthday, meaning the members were not required to obtain permission from next of kin). The confirmation and initiatory ceremonies took place in January and February 2011, and the endowment took place just this month.
I do not know the names of the members involved, but given that Professor Karski died childless, it seems very unlikely that they have any familial connection to him. I know what his faith meant to him, and I know he would be outraged at this effort to appropriate his mortal soul for another religion. This act will bring pain to his Roman Catholic and Jewish friends and admirers around the world, among others.
I’m aware that under LDS doctrine, the soul of the deceased is believed to have the choice of accepting or rejecting the ordinances offered to it. For those who don’t embrace that doctrine, however, the acts of the Church seem no less high-handed and insulting. As Elie Wiesel said when I informed him that this proxy baptism had occurred — knowing he would be interested both because of his own recent experience with the Church and because he was a friend of Professor Karski — “I’m surprised that people who believe in their religion should think like that — that they can convert dead people who cannot choose, cannot answer, cannot protest.”
Professor Wiesel encouraged me to advocate for our late friend in this matter, and he authorized me to make his comments public. “Karski was a hero for thousands of people, and it’s simply unfair to do that to his name and to him,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner stated. “He deserves better than that. He deserves to be left in peace.”
Karski was an outspoken proponent of interfaith dialogue. Attempting to convert him to another religion after death strikes me as precisely the type of intolerant act he stood up to oppose throughout his life. I call upon the LDS Church to mitigate the pain it has already caused by removing his name from the FamilySearch database of deceased persons who have undergone Church rites. If similar rites have been performed for his late wife, Pola Nirenska Karski — who lost much of her family in the Holocaust — then I call for her name also to be purged from the database.
Thank you for your time and attention.
E. Thomas Wood
CC: Major media outlets
—— End of Forwarded Message