Janusz Korczak (Henryk Goldszmit 1879-1942) was a pediatrician, educator and writer who dedicated his life to orphaned children in Poland. An assimilated Polish Jew, he practiced universal humanism. Dr. Korczak is credited in Europe with the introduction of progressive orphanages designed as democratic republics; he founded the first national children’s newspaper, trained teachers in what we now call moral education and worked in juvenile courts defending children’s rights. He was a strong advocate of the need for a Declaration of Children’s rights long before such documents were drawn up by the Geneva Convention (1924), the United Nations General Assembly (1959) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989). His books, How to Love a Child and The Child’s Right for Respect gave parents and teachers new insights into child psychology. His classics, King Matt the First and King Matt on the Deserted Island, enchanted children around the world. He stepped into legend when he refused offers to save his life. Together with 198 Jewish orphans under his care, Stephania Wilczynska, his assistant of 30 years, and 9 staff, they entered cattle cars in the Warsaw Ghetto on August 5th, 1942 and left for the Treblinka death camp never to be heard from again.The Israelis revere Janusz Korczak as one of the Thirty-six Just Men whose pure souls, according to the ancient Jewish tradition, make possible the world’s salvation, and UNESCO declared 1978-79 the Year of Korczak to coincide with the Year of the Child and the centenary of his birth.
(these biographical details were used with permission from The King of Children by Betty Jean Lifton, Copyright©1988)
Poem attributed to Janusz Korczak:
How many fields did you plow,
How many loaves of bread did you bake,
How much seed did you sow,
How many trees did you plant,
How many bricks did you lay,
How many buttons did you sew,
How many patches, how many seams did you make,
To whom did you give your warmth
who would have stumbled but for your support,
Whom did you show the way
without demanding gratitude or prize,
What was your offering,
Whom did you serve?