The New York Times recently had a small, but surprisingly touching, article about educator Janusz Korczak and the last surviving members of the orphanage he ran:
They are in their 80s now, the last living links to Janusz Korczak, the visionary champion of children’s rights who refused to part with his young charges even as they were herded to the gas chambers.
When they speak of him, the old men are young again: transported to their days in his orphanage, a place they remember as a magical republic for children as the Nazi threat grew closer.
Korczak’s ideas for a declaration of children’s rights were posthumously adopted by the United Nations, and dozens of Korczak associations exist worldwide. Last year, a compilation of his advice for parents was published under the title “Loving Every Child.” Its message: listen to children at their level, celebrate their quirks and dreams.
His work at the orphanage was interrupted in 1940 when the Nazis forced him and his orphans into the Warsaw Ghetto.
A pediatrician, educator and writer, he was born Henryk Goldszmit (Korczak was a pen name) to a Jewish family in 1878. He was beloved in Poland for his children’s stories and the radio show on which he counseled parents. Friends offered to smuggle him out of the ghetto, but he refused to abandon the children. When it came time to be deported to the Treblinka death camp in 1942, he led them, each clutching a favorite toy or game, in a silent march of protest to the train that would carry them to their deaths.
[To the tune of Joni Mitchell, “Blue,” from the album “Blue”.]
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