Korczak was born in 1878 in Warsaw, Poland. Though his parents were well off for part of his childhood, Korczak was very aware of the poverty and suffering of other less fortunate children in Warsaw. When he was 11 years old, his father became ill and his family began to struggle because he could no longer work. Korczak tutored to help out and when he went off to university, he knew he wanted to devote his life to helping children as a doctor.
Soon Dr. Korczak was a well-known, well-respected writer of articles explaining his ideas about education and orphanages. When he was asked to be director of a new Jewish orphanage, Korczak jumped at the chance because “he wanted to do more than make children well, he wanted to change their lives.” (pg 10)
The orphanage was opened in 1912 and was very democratically run. For example, the children governed themselves, decided on punishments, and participated in discussions about problems that were encountered within the orphanage. But Korczak also believed children should have fun. He always told them stories, and played games with them. Every summer, the kids went to a camp in the countryside. Korczak also wrote and published books for children and adults, his most famous being King Matt the First.
When the Nazis invaded Poland and forced all Jews to live in the ghetto they had created, Korczak , his staff and his orphans were forced to live in a single crowded room. Life was difficult and the children became thin and sickly. Korczak would roam the streets of the ghetto, scrounging around for food, medical supplies and anything else they might be able to use.
On 6 August 1942, the Nazis ordered Korczak and the children to the train station, to be transported to Treblinka extermination camp. It has been written by many who witnessed the procession through the streets about the quiet dignified manner with which Korczak and his children conducted themselves. Though nothing could save them from their horrible fate, Korczak’s ideas about and success with children continue to be inspirational. As Bogacki notes at the end to the story:
In honor of Korczak’s work, the United Nations declared 1979 the International Year of the Child. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, created in 1989, was strongly influenced by Korczak’s theories.Bogacki both wrote and illustrated this beautiful picture book depicting the life of Janusz Korczak. He was influenced by stories his grandmother had told him about this remarkable doctor.
The Champion of Children: the Story of Janusz Korczak received the following honors:
2009 National Jewish Book Award – Finalist
2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Books for Older Readers
Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2010/09/nonfiction-monday-is-here.html