Sunday, July 22, marks the birthday of famous educator and writer Henryk Goldszmit, better known to the world by his literary pseudonym Janusz Korczak.

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 Street.

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 Palestine.

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 minds.

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 of himself.

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 do.

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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