Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
When we talk about heroes of war, we usually think of people lighting In battles, leading the crowds to victory and showing resist towards the enemy. But there are also silent heroes who gave their life in the name of idea. One of them is Janusz Korczak.
Korczak was a Pole of Jewish origin – born actually as Henryk Goldszmit. He was pediatrician, children’s pedagogue and author of books for children. He was born in assimilated Jewish family in Warsaw in 1878 as a son of lawyer. Already as a teenager, after the deaths of his father, he would give tuition lessons to support the family. As a university student he was interested in schools, children’s hospitals and free-of-charge libraries with magazines for children and teenagers. After getting his doctor’s diploma, Korczak would never refuse to help the poor. He would do that free of charge at the same time charging the rich high fees for treatments.
In 1911 Korczak took personal decision not to found his own family. He supported the view of not having ‘private children’. He, however, treated all children that he cured and brought up as his own. He did not accept the role that family played in traditional Christian and Jewish believes. At the same time he never favoured any of the children he had contact with. He was – by himself and many other – perceived as a father of about 200 orphans (from the house that he ran) and hundreds of others that left that orphanage during the time he would work there.
He would treat children very seriously – preparing them to adult life – making sure they have carefree childhood but he would at the same time make sure they learn to have duties. Janusz Korczak would have with children pen discussions, allowing them to express their point of view.
When taking part in the contest for theatre play, he signed it as Janasz korczak (mistake in spelling that changed Janasz to Janusz in printing, supplied Korczak with his nickname). He would publish – with that name – columns in newspapers as well as novels about and for children. He also fought for equality of rights for children.
During pre-war years who would experience discrimination – as an author – caused by his Jewish origin. He thought seriously of leaving Poland after he had visited Palestine in mid 1930s. When leaving in ghetto he even considered committing a suicide. He thought over also humanitarian ways of death for the elderly and children dying of hunger in the streets of ghetto.
Fame of doctor Korczak caused that many people offered him help in escaping. He, however, refused to leave his orphans and decided to stay with them till the end. During liquidation of Orphanage for Jewish children, he would lead his wards. The children would march in four, carrying flag of ‘King Macius I’ (character of one of Korczak’s books). Each of them was allowed to take favourite toy or book. One boy – walking in front – would play violin. Korczak walked carrying the smallest child and holding hand of another one.
Korczak died in 1942 in gas chamber of Treblinka concentration camp. He stayed with his children till the very end. He did not oppose, he did not revolt. He silently supported orphans during their last days.