I read in the news today that “the life and work of Janusz Korczak, Jozef Kraszewski and Father Piotr Skarga will enjoy widespread promotion over the coming twelve months, with parliament having approved 2012 dedicated to the three men.”
I first heard of Janusz Korczak when I visited the memorial site at Treblinka in 1998; Treblinka was one of the three Operation Reinhardt death camps in which around 1.5 million Jews were gassed. Included among the victims at Treblinka were 192 orphans from an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto which was headed by Janusz Korczak, who accompanied the orphans to Treblinka and died along with them.
The Treblinka memorial site has 17,000 stones in honor of the 17,000 Polish cities and towns that were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. Janusz Korczak is the only individual who has a stone in his honor.
Janusz Korczak was a pseudonym for Dr. Henryk Goldzmit, who was a teacher, a social worker and a pediatrician. He also did a weekly radio show for children, and wrote a series of children’s books in which the central character was a boy king named King Matt. In July 1942, Korczak turned down the opportunity to escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, and instead accompanied 192 orphans to Treblinka where he was murdered in the gas chamber along with them.
On the march to the Umschlagplatz, the deportation center in Warsaw, where the Jews would be put on trains to Treblina, one child was carrying the flag of King Matt with the Zionist flag on the other side of it. The Zionist flag is now the blue and white flag of Israel. The children were dressed in their best clothes, and each carried a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy. (more…)