Monday, August 10, 2009

Remembering Janusz Korczak & Rhodesian Jewry

The other day, I attended the event marking 67 years since the deportation to the Treblinka death camp of Janusz Korczak, Stefania Wilczynska, and the children of their orphanage, from the Warsaw Ghetto. One of the last Holocaust survivors who was in the orphanage spoke movingly about his memories of Janusz Korczak.

Youth group member laying a memorial wreath in Janusz Korczak Square.

Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish-born doctor, author and educator. Born in Warsaw to an assimilated Jewish family, Korczak dedicated his life to caring for children, particularly orphans. He believed that children should always be listened to and respected, and this belief was reflected in his work. He wrote several books for and about children, and broadcast a children's radio program. In 1912 Korczak became the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. When World War II broke out in 1939, Korczak first refused to accept the German occupation and heed their regulations (consequently spending time in jail). However, when the Jews of Warsaw were forced to move into a ghetto, Korczak refocused his efforts on the children in his orphanage. Despite offers from Polish friends to hide him on the "Aryan" side of the city, Korczak refused to abandon the children.

Stefania Wilczynska was born in 1886 in Poland. In 1909, she met Korczak and the two began working together. When World War I began, Korczak was recruited and Stefania remained in charge of running the orphanage, which had expanded and now housed some 150 children. In 1935, she visited Palestine and lived at Ein Harod until 1939. With the Nazi occupation, the members of Ein Harod arranged for her the possibility of leaving Poland, but she turned it down and moved to the ghetto along with Dr. Korczak and the children.

In August 1942, during a 2-month wave of deportations from the ghetto, the Nazis rounded up Korczak, Wilczynska and the 200 children of the orphanage. They marched in rows to the Umschlagplatz with Korczak in the lead. He and Stephania never abandoned the children, even to the very end. Korczak and the children were sent to Treblinka, where they were all murdered.

Among the participants at the event in their memory were survivors, members of the Korczak society and youth movement members, as well as educators from Yad Vashem who reflected on the influence of Korczak's educational philosophy.

Also last week, was the annual event in memory of the Jews of Rhodes. In 1938, racial laws were imposed on the Jewish citizens-closing Jewish schools, limiting travel, firing workers and canceling the Italian citizenship of 103 Jewish families who arrived in Rhodes after 1919. On September 15, 1943, Rhodes fell into German hands and in July 1944, the expulsion of the Jewish community began. 1,641 Jews from Rhodes were murdered in the Holocaust. Among the 179 survivors, were 50 Jews that were rescued by the Turkish consul in Rhodes, Salahattin Ulkumen, who was later recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

1 comment:

  1. There is no greater love than to give one's life for children.
    Honor to Janusz KORCZAK, Stefa WILCZYNSKA and all the people who dedicate their life to children, non-violence and peace.