Story of a Secret State

ONE can accept Jan Karski’s credentials and all that he has to say about the valor of the Polish underground, and still find Story of a Secret State a thoroughly disappointing book. Like too many other chroniclers of the various resistance movements, he seems long on adventures and short on results. The Germans still hold Warsaw as this exuberant book appears, and those who made the Nazi occupation difficult deserve a better accounting than he has given us.
Some of Mr. Karski’s methods seem debatable, to say the least. On his first arrival in Paris, shortly before the fall of France, he was warned, for example, against German spies. “All Paris is infested with them,” he was told. But we find him almost immediately engaged in a long, intimate discussion with General Sikorski at — of all places — the Café de la Paix.
Again, Mr. Karski tells us of a “real expert in revenge,” one Jan who carried on all manner of strange resistance activities in Warsaw. “He carried on his person an astounding collection of every type of lethal agent. He had an attractive, specially constructed little box in which were housed lice that bore microbes, typhoid-bearing germs (sic.) and others. . . . He would frequent bars, enter into conversation with German soldiers, and drink with them. . . . At the proper moment he would drop a louse bearing typhoid germs behind the collar of his German friend. He would drop germs into the drinks.”
The author is equally mystifying in describing his own capture and mistreatment by the Gestapo. He still bears the scars of his torture, he tells us; yet the same sadists who used him so cruelly sent him promptly back to a hospital when the prison doctor found him to be “a very sick young man.”
There is enough obvious truth in Mr. Karski’s book to constitute further documentation, if any were needed, of how the Germans have brutalized every part of the world which they have held. But nothing is gained by diluting the tragic facts with boasting and with mystifying details that defy any reasonable interpretation. Houghton Mifflin, $3.00.