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Janusz Korczak (Henryk Goldszmit)

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Warsaw, Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland
Death: Died in Treblinka, Poland
Cause of death: Gassed by the Germans in the Holocaust in WWII
Immediate Family:

Son of Józef Goldszmit and Cecylia Goldszmit
Brother of Anna Lui

Occupation: Educator, children's author, and pediatrician
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Janusz Korczak

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Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, (July 22, 1878 or 1879 – August 1942) was a Polish-Jewish educator, children's author, and pediatrician known as Pan Doktor (Mr Doctor) or Stary Doktor (Old Doctor). After spending many years working as director of an orphanage in Warsaw, he refused freedom and stayed with his orphans when the organization was sent from the Ghetto to Treblinka extermination camp during the Grossaktion Warsaw of 1942.

Biography

Under foreign partitions

Korczak was born in Warsaw in 1878 or 1879 (sources vary) into the family of Józef Goldszmit, a respected lawyer from a family of proponents of the haskalah, and Cecylia nee Gębicka, daughter of a prominent Kalisz family. His father fell ill around 1890 and was admitted to mental hospital where he died six years later in April 1896. Spacious apartments, first along Miodowa street, then Świętojerska, had to be given up. Henryk worked as a tutor after school. In 1898 he used Janusz Korczak as a writing pseudonym in Ignacy Jan Paderewski's literary contest. The name originated from the book Janasz Korczak and the Pretty Swordsweeperlady by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. In the 1890s he studied in the Flying University. In the years 1898–1904 Korczak studied medicine at the University of Warsaw and also wrote for several Polish language newspapers.

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.

In 1907–1908 Korczak continued his studies in Berlin. While working for the Orphan's Society in 1909 he met Stefania Wilczyńska. In 1911–1912 he became a director of Dom Sierot, the orphanage of his own design for Jewish children in Warsaw. He took Wilczyńska as his 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. Some of his descriptions of the summer camp for Jewish children in this period and subsequently were later published in his Fragmenty Utworow and have been translated into English.

In 1917 Korczak again became a military doctor with the rank of Lieutenant during World War I. 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 Łódź

Sovereign Poland

In 1926 Korczak let the children at Dom Sierot begin their own newspaper, the Mały Przegląd (Little Review), as a weekly attachment to the daily Polish-Jewish Newspaper Nasz Przegląd (Our Review). In these years his secretary was the noted Polish novelist Igor Newerly.

During the 1930s he had his own radio program until it was cancelled due to complaints from anti-semites. In 1933 he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Polonia Restituta. In 1934–1936 Korczak traveled yearly to Mandate Palestine and visited its kibbutzim. That led to increasing anti-semitic attacks in the Polish press. It additionally spurred his estrangement with the non-Jewish orphanage he had been working for. Still, he refused to move to Palestine even when Stefania Wilczyńska went to live there for a year in 1938.

The Holocaust

In 1939, when World War II erupted, Korczak volunteered for duty in the Polish Army but was refused due to his age. He witnessed the Wehrmacht taking over Warsaw. When the Germans created the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, his orphanage was forced to move from its building, Dom Sierot at Krochmalna 92 to the ghetto (first to Chłodna 33 and later to Sienna16/Śliska 9). Korczak moved in with them. In July, Janusz Korczak decided that the children in the orphanage should put on Rabindranath Tagore’s play, The Post Office.

On August 5 or 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” by Żegota but turned it down repeatedly, saying that he could not abandon his children. On August 5, he again 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 sight 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. By another version, the officer was acting officially, as the Nazi authorities had in mind some kind of "special treatment" for Korczak (some prominent Jews with international reputations got sent to Theresienstadt). Whatever the offer, Korczak once again refused. He boarded the trains with the children and was never heard from again.

Korczak's evacuation from the Ghetto is also mentioned in Władysław Szpilman's book The Pianist:

   One day, around 5th August, when I had taken a brief rest from work and was walking down Gęsia Street, I happened to see Janusz Korczak and his orphans leaving the ghetto. The evacuation of the Jewish orphanage run by Janusz Korczak had been ordered for that morning. The children were to have been taken away alone. He had the chance to save himself, and it was only with difficulty that he persuaded the Germans to take him too. He had spent long years of his life with children and now, on this last journey, he could not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them. He told the orphans they were going out in to the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood. The little column was led by an SS man who loved children, as Germans do, even those he was about to see on their way into the next world. He took a special liking to a boy of twelve, a violinist who had his instrument under his arm. The SS man told him to go to the head of the procession of children and play – and so they set off. When I met them in Gęsia Street, the smiling children were singing in chorus, the little violinist was playing for them and Korczak was carrying two of the smallest infants, who were beaming too, and telling them some amusing story. I am sure that even in the gas chamber, as the Zyklon B gas was stifling childish throats and striking terror instead of hope into the orphans' hearts, the Old Doctor must have whispered with one last effort, ‘it's all right, children, it will be all right’. So that at least he could spare his little charges the fear of passing from life to death."

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. Most likely, Korczak, along with Wilczyńska and most of the children, was killed in a gas chamber upon their arrival at Treblinka.

A differing account of Korczak's death is given in Mary Berg's Warsaw Ghetto diary:

   Dr. Janusz Korczak’s children’s home is empty now. A few days ago we all stood at the window and watched the Germans surround the houses. Rows of children, holding each other by their little hands, began to walk out of the doorway. There were tiny tots of two or three years among them, while the oldest ones were perhaps thirteen. Each child carried the little bundle in his hand. All of them wore white aprons. They walked in ranks of two, calm, and even smiling. They had not the slightest foreboding of their fate. At the end of the procession marched Dr. Korczak, who saw to it that the children did not walk on the sidewalk. Now and then, with fatherly solicitude, he stroked a child on the head or arm, and straightened out the ranks. He wore high boots, with his trousers stuck in them, an alpaca coat, and a navy-blue cap, the so-called Maciejowka cap. He walked with a firm step, and was accompanied by one of the doctors of the children’s home, who wore his white smock. This said procession vanished at the corner of Dzielna and Smocza streets. They went in the direction of Gesia Street, to the cemetery. At the cemetery all the children were shot. We were told by our informants that Dr. Korczak was forced to witness the executions, and that he himself was shot afterward.”

Yet another account is offered in the book "The Holocaust", written by Martin Gilbert, on page 393. A witness, Adolf Berman recalled that:

"The only concern of Korczak, was that the children had not had time to dress properly, they were barefooted. The children were told that they were going on a trip, that this was a little outing, that at last they were going to see the woods and fields they had been yearning for and which the'd never seen in their lives; and one could see a smile flickering on the pale lips of those children. After a few hours they were put into the death carriages and this as the last journey of the great educator".

There is a cenotaph for him at the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.

Writings

Korczak best known writing is his fiction and pedagogy, and his most popular works have been widely translated. His main pedagogical texts have been translated into English, but of his fiction, as of 2011 only King Matt the First has been translated into English, though Kaytek the Wizard is scheduled for a June, 2012 release in English.

The copyright to all works by Korczak was acquired by The Polish Book Institute as of January 8, 2010. As of late 2011, they have embarked on an initiative to publish or re-publish many of Korczak's books, both in Polish and in other languages. As Korczak died in 1942, it is likely that his works will be available in the public domain as of January 1, 2013.

Korczak's overall literary oeuvre covers the period 1896 to August 8, 1942. It comprises works for both children and adults, and includes literary pieces, social journalism, articles and pedagogical essays, together with some scrappy unpublished work, in all totaling over twenty books, over 1,400 texts published in around 100 publications, and around 300 texts in manuscript or typescript form. A complete edition of his works is planned for 2012.

Children's books

Korczak often employed the form of the fairy tale in order to actually prepare his young readers for the dilemmas and difficulties of real adult life, and the need to take responsible decisions.

In the 1923 King Matt the First (Król Maciuś Pierwszy) and its sequel King Matt on the Desert Island (Król Maciuś na wyspie bezludnej) Korczak depicted a child prince who is catapulted to the throne by the sudden death of his father, and who must learn from various mistakes.

He tries to read and answer all his mail by himself and finds that the volume is too much and he needs to rely on secretaries; he is exasperated with his ministers and has them arrested, but soon realises that he does not know enough to govern by himself, and is forced to release the ministers and institute constitutional monarchy; when a war breaks out he does not accept being shut up in his palace, but slips away and joins up, pretending to be a peasant boy - and narrowly avoids becoming a POW; he takes the offer of a friendly journalist to publish for him a "royal paper" -and finds much later that he gets carefully edited news and that the journalist is covering up the gross corruption of the young king's best friend; he tries to organise the children of all the world to hold processions and demand their rights - and ends up antagonising other kings; he falls in love with a black African princess and outrages racist opinion (by modern standards, however, Korczak's depiction of blacks is itself not completely free of stereotypes which were current at the time of writing); finally, he is overthrown by the invasion of three foreign armies and exiled to a desert island, where he must come to terms with reality - and finally does.

The later Kajtuś the Wizard (Kajtuś czarodziej) (1935) anticipated Harry Potter in depicting a schoolboy who gains magic powers, and it was very popular during the 1930s, both in Polish and in translation to several other languages. Kajtuś has, however, a far more difficult path than Harry Potter: he has no Hogwarts-type School of Magic where he could be taught by expert mages, but must learn to use and control his powers all by himself - and most importantly, to learn his limitations. Pedagogical books

In his pedagogical works, Korczak shares much of his experience dealing with difficult children. Korczak's ideas were further developed by many other pedagogues such as Simon Soloveychik and Erich Dauzenroth.

About Janusz Korczak (עברית)

יאנוּש קוֹרצ'אק; 22 ביולי 1878 או 1879 - 5 באוגוסט 1942) הוא שם העט שבו נודע הֶנְרִיק גולדשמיט , סופר, רופא, מחנך והוגה חינוכי יהודי פולני. היה מנהלם של בתי יתומים, שהיוו את אחד הניסיונות המוקדמים ביותר בחינוך דמוקרטי

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Janusz Korczak's Timeline

1879
July 22, 1879
Warsaw, Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland
1942
August 5, 1942
Age 63
Treblinka, Poland