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Korczak Janusz
King Matthew the First
Król Maciuś Pierwszy

Korczak Janusz (18781942)King Matthew the FirstKról Maciuś Pierwszy

Janusz Korczak, real name Henryk Goldszmit was a Polish-Jewish pediatrician, children's author and child pedagogist, known as Old Doctor (Stary Doktor). Korczak was born in Warsaw in an assimilated Jewish family. His father Józef Goldszmit died in 1896, possibly by his own hand, leaving the family without a source of income. Over the next few years, the family was forced to abandon their spacious apartment and, during his teens, Korczak was the sole breadwinner for his mother, sister, and grandmother.

In 1898 he used Janusz Korczak as a writing pseudonym in Ignacy Paderewski's literary contest. The name originated from the book Janasz Korczak and the pretty Swordsweeperlady by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. In 1890s he studied in the Flying University. In years 1898–1904 Korczak studied medicine in Warsaw and also wrote for several Polish language newspapers.

After his graduation he became a pediatrician. During the Russo-Japanese War in 1905–1906 he served as a military doctor. Meanwhile his book Child of the Drawing Room gained him some literary recognition. After the war he continued his practice in Warsaw.

In years 1907–1908 Korczak continued his studies in Berlin. When he was working for Orphan's Society in 1909 he met Stefania Wilczyńska. In 1911–1912 he became a director of Dom Sierot, the orphanage of his own design for Jewish children in Warsaw. He took Wilczyńska as his closest associate. There he formed a kind-of-a-republic for children with its own small parliament, court and newspaper. He reduced his other duties as a doctor.

In 1914 Korczak again became a military doctor with the rank of lieutenant during the World War I. He wrote his pedagogic essays in his spare time. In Kyiv he also met Maryna Falska, who later became his aide in Warsaw. He returned to Warsaw prior to the regaining of independence by Poland in 1918.

After the war he resumed his job in Dom Sierot and also founded another orphanage called Nasz dom (Our Home). During the Polish-Soviet War he served again as a military doctor with the rank of major but was assigned to Warsaw after a brief stint in Łódź. He contracted typhus and his mother died of it.

In 1926 he let children begin their own newspaper, the Mały Przegląd, as a weekly attachment to the daily Polish-Jewish Newspaper Nasz Przegląd.

During the 1930s he had his own radio program until it was cancelled due to complaints from anti-semites. In 1933 he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Polonia Restituta. In 1934–1936 Korczak traveled yearly to Palestine and visited its kibbutzim. That lead to increasing anti-semitic attacks in Polish press. That also lead to a break with the non-Jewish orphanage he had been working for. Still he refused to move to Palestine even when Wilczyńska moved there for a year in 1938.

In 1939, when the World War II erupted, Korczak volunteered for duty in the Polish Army but was refused due to his age. He witnessed Wehrmacht taking over Warsaw. When Nazis created a Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, his orphanage was forced to move to the ghetto. Korczak moved in with them.

On August 5 (some say August 6), 1942, German soldiers came to collect the 192 (there is some debate about the actual number and it may have been 196) orphans and about one dozen staff members to take them to Treblinka extermination camp. Korczak had been offered sanctuary on the “Aryan side” of Warsaw but turned it down repeatedly, saying that he could not abandon his children. Now too, he refused offers of sanctuary, insisting that he would go with the children. The children were dressed in their best clothes, and each carried a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy.

According to a popular legend, when the group of orphans finally reached the Umschlagplatz, an SS officer recognized Korczak as the author of one of his favorite children's books and offered to help him escape, but once again, Korczak refused. He boarded the trains with the children and was never heard from again.

Some time after, there were rumors that the trains had been diverted and that Korczak and the children had survived. There was, however, no basis to these stories. Most likely, Korczak was killed with most of his children in a gas chamber upon their arrival to Treblinka.

German Federal Republic, 1978, Janusz Korczak

Israel, 1962, Janusz Korczak

Poland, 1962, Bust of Korczak

Poland, 1962, King Matthew on horhseback

Poland, 1962, King Matthew and Klu-Klu

Poland, 1962, King Matthew handcuffed

Poland, 1962, King Matthew and dead bird

Poland, 1962, King Matthew ice skating

Poland, 1978, Janush Korczak with children

Poland, 1992, Statue of Korczak

German Federal Republic, 1978.07.13, Bonn. Janusz Korczak

Poland, 1962.11.12, Warsaw. Year of Korczak

Poland, 1978.10.11, Warsaw. Janusz Korczak

Poland, 1992.08.05, Warsaw. Janusz Korczak


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