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Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak (1878-1942) was a Polish-Jewish pediatrician, children’s author and child pedagogist.

Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit on July 22, 1878 in Warsaw Poland. His parents were an assimilated Jewish family. His father Jozef Goldszmit died in 1896, possibly by his own hand, leaving the family without a source of income. Over the next few years, the family was forced to abandon their spacious apartment and, during his teens, Korczak was the sole breadwinner for his mother, sister, and grandmother.

1898 he used Janusz Korczak as a writing pseudonyme in Ignacy Paderewski’s literary contest. The name originated from the book Janasz Korczak and the pretty Swordsweeperlady by J. I. Krazewski. 1898 – 1904 Korczak studied medicine in Warsaw and also wrote for newspapeps.

After his graduation he became a pediatrician. During the Russo-Japanese War in 1905-1906 he served as a military doctor. Meanwhile his book Child of the Drawing Room gained him some literary recognition. After the war he continued his practice in Warsaw.

1907-1908 Korczak continued his studies in Berlin. When he was working for Orphan’s Society in 1909 he met Stefania Wilczynska. 1911-1912 he became a director of Dom Sierot, the orphanage of his own design for Jewish children in Warsaw. He took Wilczynska as her closest associate. There he formed a kind-of-a-republic for children with its own small parliament, court and newspaper. He reduced his other duties as a doctor.

1914 Korczak again became a military doctor with the rank of lieutenant during the World War One. He wrote his pedagogic essays in his spare time. In Kiev he also met Maryna Falska, who later became his aide in Warsaw. He returned to Warsaw prior to independence of Poland in 1918.

After the war he resumed his job in Dom Sierot and also founded another orphanage called Nasz dome. During the Polish-Soviet War he served again as a military doctor with the rank of major but was assigned to Warsaw after a brief stint in Lodz. He contracted typhus and her mother died of it.

In 1926 he let children begin their own newspaper the Maly Pryzeglad, as weekly attachment to the daily Polish-Jewish Newspaper Nasz Pryzeglad.

During the 1930’s he had his own radio program until it was cancelled due to complaints of right-wing anti-semites. 1933 when he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Polonia Restituta. 1934-1936 Korczak traveled yearly to Palestine and visited its kibbutzes. That lead to increasing anti-semitic attacks in Polish right-wing press. That also lead to a break with the non-Jewish orphanage he had been working for. Still he refused to move to Palestine even when Wilczynska moved there for a year in 1938.

In 1939, when the World War Two erupted, Korczak volunteered for duty but was refused due to his age. He witnessed Wehrmacht taking over Warsaw. When Nazis created a Warsaw ghetto in 1940, his orphanage was forced to move to the ghetto. Korczak moved in with them.

On August 5 (some say August 6), 1942, German soldiers came to collect the 192 (there is some debate about the actual number and it may have been 196) orphans and about one dozen staff members to take them to Treblinka extermination camp. Korczak had been offered sanctuary on the "Aryan side" of Warsaw but turned it down repeatedly, saying that he could not abandon his children. Now too, he refused offers of sanctuary, insisting that he would go with the children. The children were dressed in their best clothes, and each carried a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy. Joshua Perle, an eyewitness, described the procession of Korczak and the children through the ghetto to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps):

... A miracle occurred. Two hundred children did not cry out. Two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak, so that he might protect and preserve them. Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots. A few nurses were followed by two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes, as they were being carried to the altar. ... On all sides the children were surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians, and this time also Jewish policemen. They whipped and fired shots at them. The very stones of the street wept at the site of the procession.

According to a popular legend, when the group of orphans finally reached the Umschlagplatz, an SS officer recognized Korczak as the author of one of his favorite children's books and offered to help him escape, but once again, Korczak refused. He boarded the trains with the children and was never heard from again.

Some time after, there were rumors that the trains had been diverted and that Korczak and the children had survived. There was, however, no basis to these stories.

There is a memorial grave for him at the Okapawa Cemetery in Warsaw.

Table of contents
1 Selected writings (English names)
2 Fiction
3 Pedagogic books
4 External links:

Selected writings (English names)


Pedagogic books

External links: