Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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 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 of 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 kibbutzes. 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. Joshua Perle, an eyewitness, described the procession of Korczak and the children through the ghetto to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps):
- ... A miracle occurred. Two hundred children did not cry out. Two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak, so that he might protect and preserve them. Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots. A few nurses were followed by two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes, as they were being carried to the altar. (...) On all sides the children were surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians, and this time also Jewish policemen. They whipped and fired shots at them. The very stones of the street wept at the sight of the procession.
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 probably Korczak was killed with his children in a gas chamber upon their arrival to Treblinka. There is a memorial grave for him at the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.
- Children of the streets (Dzieci ulicy, Warsaw, 1901)
- Koszałki Opałki (Warsaw, 1905)
- Child of the Drawing Room (Dziecko salonu, Warsaw, 1906, 2nd edition 1927) – partially autobiographical
- Mośki, Joski i Srule (Warsaw, 1910)
- Józki, Jaśki i Franki (Warsaw, 1911)
- Sława (Warsaw, 1913, corrected 1935 and 1937)
- Bobo (Warsaw, 1914)
- King Matt the First (Król Maciuś Pierwszy, Warsaw, 1923)
- King Matt on the Desert Island (Król Maciuś na wyspie bezludnej, Warsaw 1923)
- Bankructwo małego Dżeka (Warsaw, 1924)
- When I Am Little Again (Kiedy znów będę mały, Warsaw, 1925)
- Senat szaleńców, humoreska ponura (a screenplay for the Ateneum theatre in Warsaw, 1931)
- Kajtuś czarodziej (Warsaw, 1935)
- Momenty wychowawcze (Warsaw, 1919, 2nd edition 1924)
- How to Love a Child (Jak kochać dziecko, Warsaw 1919, 2nd edition 1920 as Jak kochać dzieci)
- The Child´s Right to Respect (Prawo dziecka do szacunku, Warsaw, 1929)
- Pedagogika żartobliwa (Warsaw, 1933)
- Diary (Pamiętnik, Warsaw, 1958)
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