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Janusz Korczak is Born, 1878

On This Day in Jewish History: July 22, 1878


Janusz Korczak, originally named Henryk Goldszmit, was born in Warsaw, Poland to a working-class family. After his father’s passing in 1896, Korczak became the sole breadwinner for his mother, grandmother and sister. Because of this, he quickly became sympathetic to all children and would eventually devote most of his life’s work to advocating for children's rights.

While participating in a literary contest in 1898, he used the pseudonym Janusz Korczak, a name he took from the book Janusz Korczak and the Pretty Sword Sweeper Lady by Polish author Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski. The name stuck. Originally wanting to be a doctor, Korczak studied medicine at the University of Warsaw and in 1905-1906 he served as a military doctor in the Russo-Japanese war. During the war, he came to the conclusion that he would make a lasting impression on the world as an educator, rather than as a doctor. Slide 3: After joining the Orphans Aid Society, he became the director of Dom Sierot, the orphanage of his own design for Jewish children in Warsaw. Around 100 children lived in this orphanage where they took part in a ‘republic for children’ participating in the small parliament, law-court and newspaper. While creating a newspaper for Jewish children entitled “The Small Review,” his children’s books King Matt The First and How To Love A Child, gained him literary recognition and widespread popularity.

Korczak also had his own radio program which was widely broadcasted in Poland in the 1930s but shut down due to growing antisemitism. Finding other ways to resist the policies of German occupied Poland, Korczak refused to wear the armband with the Star of David or to remove his Polish officer uniform. Despite these acts of resilience, come 1940, his orphanage was forced to move into the confines of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Though he was repeatedly offered shelter on the Aryan side, he stayed with his children and refused to abandon them. As he grew older, he began suffering from his own health, but continued to put the children’s health first, going door to door in the ghetto asking for food, clothing, and medicine for the children. He recorded his experience in the ghetto in a diary which was published in Poland in 1958.

Despite the harsh realities of life in the ghetto, Korczak tried his best to educate his children with the truth and often conducted plays and concerts at the orphanage which attracted members of the public. He continued to put the childrens’ lives first even on August 5, 1940, when the orphanage walked with dignity towards the rail yard for deportation to the east. Korczak, 12 members of his staff and over 200 children were taken to Treblinka where they were immediately sent to the gas chambers. May their memories be a blessing. Slide 7: In 2006, the Janusz Korczak Monument in Warsaw was unveiled at the site where his orphanage once stood. It serves as a reminder of his legacy and unparalleled love and respect for children.

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