We were prisoners of the Red Army. I, myself, strangely, had not even had an opportunity to fight the Germans. [...] The exchange of prisoners took place near Przemysl, a town on the Russian–German border established by the Ribbentrop–Molotov pact*. [...] Under these collective illusions we left the train at Radom, a town in western Poland. This time the Germans lined us up with a great deal of gruff shouting. The officers that took command of us were harsh and issued disguised threats instead of promises. These were disturbing but did not alter our fundamental convictions. The belief that we were going to be freed had effectively prevented the slightest attempt at escape ever since Przemysl and continued to function now, as we marched under a light guard to the distribution camp at Radom. As we marched along, dazed and bedraggled, we began to doubt and conjecture for the first time.
Our conjectures were confirmed when we first saw the formidable barbed-wire fences of this huge, dismal camp. Again we were drawn up in the center of the camp and a speech was made assuring us that we would ultimately be released and put to work. In the meantime, though, any infraction of camp discipline would meet with swift and severe punishment. Anyone who attempted to escape would be instantly shot.
The next few days at Radom introduced me to a species of mentality and a new type of moral code, if it can be called such, so alien as to be ununderstandable. For the first time I encountered brutality and inhumanity of proportions completely out of the realm of anything I had previously experienced, and that actually made me revise my conception of the range of what could occur in the world I inhabited.
Living conditions were unspeakable. [...] Here I learned how common and lightly regarded death could be. There had been, I learned, and continued to be, during my stay, many fatalities that could easily have been prevented – deaths from cold, hunger, exposure, and from physical abuse – the aftermath of imaginary or real violations of camp discipline. But what shocked me most at Radom were not merely the living conditions and the brutality of our captors, but the apparently unmotivated character of both. These seemed to be occasioned not by any desire to inculcate discipline or obedience or to forestall attempts at escape. Nor were they designed merely to humiliate, degrade, and weaken us, though this was, in some degree, what was accomplished. It seemed rather all to be part of some unheard of, brutal code to which the guards and officials adhered with casual conformity for its own sake.
*Jan Karski got into German captivity as a private (hiding his officer’s rank), in a prisoner exchange between the Soviets and the Third Reich.