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Janusz Korczak, the pseudonym of Henryk Goldszmit, was a Jewish educator, pediatrician, and children’s book author from Poland whose most famous work is entitled Loving Every Child. He directed a Polish orphanage in Warsaw for many years. When the German Nazis began the secret extermination of all the Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto, Dr. Korczak refused to abandon the orphans to save his own skin. The Nazis imprisoned him and the orphans at the Treblinka extermination camp where he later died.

Youth and Education

The famous Jewish writer and educator Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit.

Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit on July 22, 1878, in Warsaw, Poland.[1] Józef Goldszmit worked as a well-respected lawyer in Warsaw and Korczak’s grandfather, Hirsz Goldszmit, worked as a physician. Both his father and grandfather actively participated in the Jewish community and progressive Polish circles, including the Haskale, an Enlightenment movement within the Polish-Jewish community.

Korczak first attended the strict Augustyn Szmulo Primary School in his hometown of Warsaw. He moved on to the Gimnazjum Praskie, also known as the Praga Secondary School and now known as the Wladyslaw IV Liceum,[2][3] Korczak did not excel academically, but possessed a great affection for literature.[4] He preferred to read the fiction of J.J. Kraszewski and the poetic works of A. Mickiewicz.[5]

Writer Beginnings

Goldszmit/Korczak’s interest in literature influenced his decision to keep a diary throughout his life and write stories of his own. In 1891, at thirteen years old, he started his first diary. In 1895, he wrote his first literary work titled Suicide, Samòbojstwo in Polish, as well several comedic sketches in 1896. The story Suicide was lost and never recovered. In 1896, Korczak’s first published work called The Gordian Knot, or Wezel Gordyjski, premiered in the magazine Kolce, or Barbs in English. His father died the same year due to complication from a mental health issue.

Goldszmit shortened his first name from Henryk to Hen in his first attempt to create a literary pseudonym. In 1898, he participated in the I. Paderewski Literary Competition through his 8th-grade class. He submitted a play in four acts called Which Way?, or Ktòredy?' Goldszmit first used what became his professional pseudonym, Janusz Korczak, for this competition.[6]

Medical School and Social Activism

In 1898, Janusz Korczak graduated from his secondary school and enrolled in the Department of Medicine at Warsaw University.[7] He repeated his first year and graduated as a physician after six years of study. He continued to write articles and stories for Kolce and even wrote his first novel called Children of the Streets, published in 1901. He also worked for a short time in a free children’s reading room.

Korczak joined the Summer Camp Society in 1900 and remained an active member until 1915. He started working in holiday camps prior to the end of his studies. The summers of 1904 and 1907 that he spent in the orphanage were the basis for his pedagogic works published in 1910, Mośki, Joski, Srule, and 1911, Józki, Jaśki i Franki.[8]

In March 1905, Dr. Janusz Korczak earned his medical degree and he started working in the Jewish Berson and Bauman Hospital for Children in Warsaw. Later that year he was drafted as a physician to the front lines of the Russian-Japanese conflict. He published articles on education, sociology, public health, and other issues he encountered while serving on the front line in various medical journals and as books.[9]

Dr. Korczak attended lectures on pedagogy and pediatrics in Berlin from 1907 to 1908 and Paris for six months in 1910. He observed education and therapy provided to children in hospitals in the two countries and in English nursing homes and schools on a trip to London in either 1910 or 1911.[10]

The Jewish House of Orphans

In 1912, Dr. Janusz Korczak made the decision to dedicate the rest of his life to children.[11] He quit working at the hospital after persuading a Jewish community organization to fund the establishment of a new orphanage to replace the dismal “Help for the Orphans” home operating in Warsaw at the time. He named the new home House of the Orphans.

Dr. Korczak employed educational methods he learned from Johann Pestolazzi of Switzerland and the German Friedrich Fröbel while including his own personal additions. He was recruited into the Russian Army as a physician and relocated to Ukraine after the outbreak of World War I. While serving, Janusz Korczak wrote his first, full-length pedagogic book entitled Loving Every Child. The now world-famous parenting book discussed his opinion on the eating and sleeping patterns of infants and a multitude of other child-rearing topics.

In 1919, Dr. Korczak returned to the Polish orphanage and completed König Hänschen his most successful children’s book in 1923 about an orphan king.[12] He began publishing a weekly experimental children’s magazine in 1926, Mały Przegląd, and he remained the editor until 1930. He collaborated with educational institutions to improve their teaching standards, including the National Institute of Special Pedagogy. He moved in with is sister in 1932 and started working as an expert witness for cases involving children in the local court. Beginning in 1934, he gave talks to children over Polish Radio under the name “Old Doctor.” He visited Palestine that year and again in 1936 to study the kibbutzim pedagogical work.[13]

The Extermination of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto

Janusz Korczak marched with the other Jews from the House of Orphans and the Warsaw Ghetto, refusing to abandon any of them like the captain of a sinking ship.

In July 1942, officials of the Nazi Third Reich decided to resettle all the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto. On August 4, 1942, Dr. Janusz Korczak wrote the final entry in his diary describing a soldier watching him water flowers outside the orphanage.[14] The following day, August 5, the deportation of Warsaw Ghetto residents began in a move called the Grossaktion.

Dr. Korczak refused his many friends’ offers to escape and save his life. He would not leave the children and the rest of the House of Orphans employees. The Nazis removed everyone from the orphanage and they joined a group of almost 1,000 Jewish citizens marching towards Umschlagplatz. From there, they boarded the train to the Treblinka extermination camp.[15]

Witnesses stated the children did not cry, but bravely followed their beloved teacher and caregiver. They boarded the train and no one heard from them again. They most likely died in a gas chamber shortly after their arrival at Treblinka.[16] Artist Mieczysław Smorczewski created a cenotaph memorial in 1892 placed in Warsaw’s Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery commemorating the heroism of Janusz Korczak.[17]

References

Bibliography


Lewowicki, T. (1994). Janusz Korczak (1878-1942). Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, XXIV(1/2), 37–48. UNESCO: International Bureau of Education.[2]

Pejsa, J. (2009). Janusz Korczak’s Biography. The University of Minnesota: Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. [3]

Witkowska (Korczakianum), A. (2011, December ). Janusz Korczak. The Adam Mickiewicz Institute. [4]

Footnotes

  1. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  2. Lewowicki, 1994
  3. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  4. Lewowicki, 1994
  5. Lewowicki, 1994
  6. Lewowicki, 1994
  7. Lewowicki, 1994
  8. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  9. Lewowicki, 1994
  10. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  11. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  12. Pejsa, 2009
  13. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  14. Pejsa, 2009
  15. Witkowska (Korczakianum), 2011)
  16. Pejsa, 2009
  17. Sowa. (2006). Cmentarz żydowski przy ul. Okopowej w Warszawie. Cmentarium.[1]