Janusz Korczak memorial at Yad Vashem.
Sunday, July 22, marks the birthday of famous educator and writer Henryk
Goldszmit, better known to the world by his literary pseudonym Janusz
In Poland, where he was born, 132 years ago, parliament
unanimously passed a resolution establishing 2012 as the Year of Janusz Korczak,
because it is the 70th anniversary of his deportation to Treblinka where he was
murdered together with the children in his care. It is also the 100th
anniversary of the founding of his orphanage on Warsaw’s Krochmalna
Korczak believed that children were just younger and smaller
people than adults and should be given the same opportunities as adults to
express themselves in debate, on stage, in the press and on radio – and that was
how he conducted his orphanage. He gave his children as broad a universal
education as possible so as to prepare them to go out and conquer the world, and
he zealously defended the rights of all children.
Occasionally he took
time out to travel, and in the 1930s paid several visits to Mandate
At the outbreak of the Second World War, there were close to
200 children in the orphanage, who had to twice relocate before being rounded up
by the Germans in the first week of August 1942. Korczak instructed the children
to put on their best clothes and created the impression that they were going on
an important outing. He did everything possible to keep fear out of their
He was given two opportunities to save himself but refused.
Zagota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews, offered to smuggle him to the Aryan side
of the city, but he opted to remain with the youngsters.
The Nazis also
had a grudging respect for him and offered him an option that would have
prolonged if not necessarily saved his life, but again he put the children ahead
There are Janusz Korczak Associations in many parts of the
world and not just in countries with a preponderance of Polish expats or large
Jewish communities. Such associations also exist in Japan, the Ivory Coast,
Burundi and India.
Many of the so-called revolutionary ideas about
children’s rights that have received widespread media attention in recent years
were practiced by Korczak, more than 80 years ago.
He was such an
extraordinary pedagogue, influenced to some extent by Maria Montessori, that
even during the most anti-Semitic post-war era in Poland, he was singled out as
a source of Polish pride, a shining example of what one educator can
Korczak spent several years of his life as a journalist, but is much
better known as a prolific writer of essays, plays and short stories. A
16-volume edition of his collected works is due for release this year.
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