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Janusz Korczak facts for kids

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Janusz Korczak
Janusz Korczak.PNG
Janusz Korczak, photographed c. 1930
Born
Henryk Goldszmit

(1878-07-22)22 July 1878
Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Died c. 7 August 1942(1942-08-07) (aged 64)
Treblinka extermination camp, German-occupied Poland
Nationality Polish
Occupation Children's author, humanitarian, pediatrician, child pedagogue and defender of children's rights

Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit (22 July 1878 or 1879 – 7 August 1942), was a Polish Jewish educator, children's author and pedagogue known as Pan Doktor ("Mr. Doctor") or Stary Doktor ("Old Doctor"). After spending many years working as a principal of an orphanage in Warsaw, he refused sanctuary repeatedly and stayed with his orphans when the entire population of the institution was sent from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp by the Nazis, during the Grossaktion Warschau of 1942.

Children's books

Korczak often employed the form of a fairy tale in order to prepare his young readers for the dilemmas and difficulties of real adult life, and the need to make responsible decisions.

In the 1923 King Matt the First (Król Maciuś Pierwszy) and its sequel King Matt on the Desert Island (Król Maciuś na wyspie bezludnej) Korczak depicted a child prince who is catapulted to the throne by the sudden death of his father, and who must learn from various mistakes:

He tries to read and answer all his mail by himself and finds that the volume is too much and he needs to rely on secretaries; he is exasperated with his ministers and has them arrested, but soon realises that he does not know enough to govern by himself, and is forced to release the ministers and institute constitutional monarchy; when a war breaks out he does not accept being shut up in his palace, but slips away and joins up, pretending to be a peasant boy - and narrowly avoids becoming a POW; he takes the offer of a friendly journalist to publish for him a "royal paper" -and finds much later that he gets carefully edited news and that the journalist is covering up the gross corruption of the young king's best friend; he tries to organise the children of all the world to hold processions and demand their rights – and ends up antagonising other kings; he falls in love with a black African princess and outrages racist opinion (by modern standards, however, Korczak's depiction of blacks is itself not completely free of stereotypes which were current at the time of writing); finally, he is overthrown by the invasion of three foreign armies and exiled to a desert island, where he must come to terms with reality – and finally does.

In 2012, another book by Korczak was translated into English. Kajtuś the Wizard (Kajtuś czarodziej) (1933) anticipated Harry Potter in depicting a schoolboy who gains magic powers, and it was very popular during the 1930s, both in Polish and in translation to several other languages. Kajtuś has, however, a far more difficult path than Harry Potter: he has no Hogwarts-type School of Magic where he could be taught by expert mages, but must learn to use and control his powers all by himself - and most importantly, to learn his limitations.

Korczak's The Persistent Boy was a biography of the French scientist Louis Pasteur, adapted for children - as stated in the preface - from a 685-page French biography which Korczak read. The book clearly aims to portray Pasteur as a role model for the child reader. A considerable part of the book is devoted to Pasteur's childhood and boyhood, and his relations with parents, teachers and schoolmates. It is emphasised that Pasteur, destined for world-wide fame, started from inauspicious beginnings - born to poor working-class parents in an obscure French provincial town and attending a far from high-quality school. There, he was far from a star pupil, his marks often falling below average. As repeatedly emphasised by Korczak, Pasteur's achievements, both in childhood and in later academic and scientific career, were mainly due to persistence (as hinted in the title), a relentless and eventually successful effort to overcome his limitations and early failures.

Legacy and remembrance

Korczak is commemorated in a number of monuments and plaques in Poland, mainly in Warsaw. There are several monuments commemorating Korczak in Warsaw itself, the best known of which is the one located in the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street, which serves as his symbolic grave. However, the monument set up in the Świętokrzyski Park in 2006 is not only the largest but also, due to its very convenient location, the most frequently visited by school trips and tourists monument commemorating Korczak. Every year, around June 1st, on Children's Day, trips from Warsaw schools go to the monument.

The influential twentieth-century Hebrew-language educator and publisher Zevi Scharfstein profiled Korczak in his 1964 work Great Hebrew Educators (גדולי חינוך בעמנו, Rubin Mass Publishers, Jerusalem, 1964).

List of selected works

Fiction

  • Children of the Streets (Dzieci ulicy, Warsaw 1901)
  • Fiddle-Faddle (Koszałki opałki, Warsaw 1905)
  • Child of the Drawing Room (Dziecko salonu, Warsaw 1906, 2nd edition 1927) – partially autobiographical
  • Mośki, Joski i Srule (Warsaw 1910)
  • Józki, Jaśki i Franki (Warsaw 1911)
  • Fame (Sława, Warsaw 1913, corrected 1935 and 1937)
  • Bobo (Warsaw 1914)
  • King Matt the First (Król Maciuś Pierwszy, Warsaw 1923)
  • King Matt on a Deserted Island (Król Maciuś na wyspie bezludnej, Warsaw 1923)
  • Bankruptcy of Little Jack (Bankructwo małego Dżeka, Warsaw 1924)
  • When I Am Little Again (Kiedy znów będę mały, Warsaw 1925)
  • Senat szaleńców, humoreska ponura (Madmen's Senate, play premièred at the Ateneum Theatre in Warsaw, 1931)
  • Kaytek the Wizard (Kajtuś czarodziej, Warsaw 1935)
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