Janusz Korczak (1878 -1942) was a Polish Jewish educator, children’s author and paediatrician. He was born in Warsaw to an assimilated Jewish family. Korczak devoted his life to the welfare of children, particularly orphans. He was a tireless advocate for the rights of children. He believed that children should always be listened to and respected, and his philosophy was reflected in his work. In 1911-1912 he became a director of Dom Sierot (House of the Orphans), a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. There he applied his beliefs about children and established a ‘republic’ for children, with their own parliament, court and newspaper. He wrote several books for and about children and broadcast a children’s programme.
When the Germans established the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, Korczak’s orphanage was forced to relocate there. The ghetto inhabitants suffered from starvation, cold and disease. Korczak cared for his young charges by whatever means he could. Offers came to help him escape and to hide him on the Polish side, outside the ghetto wall. But all offers were rejected. Korczak would not abandon his children.
On 5 August, 1942, the Nazis rounded up Korczak, his staff, and his 200 children, with a thousand others from the ghetto. The children were dressed in their best clothes, each carried a blue knapsack and a favourite book or toy. They marched in rows to the Umschlagplatz (collection point), with Korczak at the head holding the hand of a child. He did not abandon his children, and stayed with them till the very end. Korczak and the children were deported to the death camp at Treblinka, where they were all murdered upon arrival.