How I met “The Good Doctor”
My background is important in order understand my strong emotional bond to Janusz Korczak-The Patron Saint of Child Advocacy. I first became acquainted with the life story of The Good Doctor when I read an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1979. It was written by Professor Edwin Kulawiec on the occasion of the UN declaring 1979 The Year of the Child, and Janusz Korczak -The Man of the Year- though posthumously. It was noted that Janusz Korczak, real name Henryk Goldszmit, was a pediatrician.
So it was that my background made it that I was more than ready to embrace this Saint of Child Advocacy. I was born in Vienna,Austria, smuggled into Belgium in 1939, and arrived in the US in 1940.I grew up in what I call the ghetto of South Philadelphia, home of Sicilian laborers and Jewish merchants of small stores. Since I was 14 I knew that I was going to become a dentist.In my senior year of high school I was hired as a counselor at a summer camp for underprivileged children. That experience made me realize that I wanted to work only with children. After graduating from Temple University School of Dentistry, I was accepted into the Pediatric Residency Program at the Eastman Dental Center/University of Rochester. However since there was a military draft in those days, I ended up being the post pediatric dentist at Fort Campbell, Ky-home of the 101st Airborne Division. There in addition to caring for the children of the military on post, I also got experience working with special needs children, being the dental consultant to the department of pediatrics, and doing preventive dentistry programs throughout the school system.
My deep relationship with Janusz Korczak progressed from that JAMA editorial. I was so intrigued that I wrote to Professor Kulawiec, who was the Dean of Graduate Education at George Washington University. He was of Polish background, became acquainted with Korczak on a trip to Eastern Europe. He subsequently began to translate Korczak’s writings from Polish to English, further writing his own articles on Korczak and education for professional journals such as the Harvard Educational Review. Professor Kulawiec became my mentor and shared all of his writings with me. I subsequently went on a search for all writings about Korczak in English that I could find, articles, books, and on line. The next part of the journey came when Professor Kulawiec invited my wife and I to attend the Janusz Korczak Literary Awards, sponsored by the AntiDefamation League, that year at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The speaker that year was Jan Karski. Future award ceremonies were at the Bnai Brith building in New York City. Subsequent years’ speakers were Governor Thomas Kean and Dr Everett Koop.
In 1991 I was contacted by Professor Millicent Megaliff, Professor of Education at Columbia University, seeking to convene a meeting of people interested in Korczak, and of forming the Janusz Korczak Society of America. At the inaugural meeting Professor Megaliff was elected President, and I Vice-President. We were to meet biannually at the occasion of the Literary awards. Unfortunately in 1996 the ADL abruptly discontinued the awards. This decision also deprived our group a reason and a place to continue the Society’s meetings. In 1995 Professor Megaliff decided to retire from the Presidency and I was subsequently elected president. With no further opportunity for a central meeting place, and the membership spread over a wide geographic area, I saw my role as president to be the central source for communication among members, and to answer inquiries from people that wanted more information about Janusz Korczak, and to represent the Society at as many venues as possible.
My spiritual attraction to Korczak was instantaneous, and it was how he so well articulated, and was able to write about how I felt when I was working with children. He was my guide through out my professional career. He is still my
guide when with my children, grandchildren, and all children I get a chance to interact with. For all these many years I have been driven by the desire and the opportunities to acquaint as many people as possible, through programs and lectures, with the rich life and teachings of Janusz Korczak. I speak about him to all people I meet, health professionals, educators in religious and public schools, adults and children, Jewish and non-Jewish.
I end with one of Korczak’s famous philosophical utterances-one of my favorites. It is his goodbye speech to the leaving graduates of the Orphanage.
“We say goodbye to you and wish you well on your long travel into a faraway country. Thus your trip has but one name, and one destination: your life. We have thought long and hard how we should say good-bye to you, what advice to give you on your way. Unfortunately words are poor and weak vehicles to express ourselves. So we can give you nothing on your way. We give you no God, because Him you have to seek in your own soul, in a solitary struggle. We give you no fatherland, because that you have to find through the efforts of your own heart, through your own thoughts. We don’t give you love for your fellow man, because there is no love without forgiveness, and to forgive is a laborious task, a hardship which only the person himself can decide to take upon himself.
We give you only one thing: the desire for a better life which does not yet exist, but which will someday come into being, alive of truth and justice. Maybe the desire for it will guide you to God, to a real fatherland and to love.
Farewell and don’t forget it.”
Kurt can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.