Janusz Korczak

Article

August 14, 2022

Janusz Korczak (real name Henryk Goldszmit, July 22, 1878, Warsaw – August 7, 1942, Treblinka extermination camp) was a Polish Jewish author of children's literature, pediatrician, pedagogue and columnist, also known by the nicknames Pan Doktor or Starý Doktor. From 1912 he ran a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw, which he took care of even during the Second World War, when he had to move with the children to the Warsaw ghetto. When the German authorities ordered the children to be transported to the Treblinka extermination camp in early August 1942, Korczak decided to go with them, even though he did not have to. In Treblinka, they were all murdered in gas chambers.

Life before World War II

He was born in 1878 (some sources give 1879) in Warsaw, Congress Poland as Henryk Goldszmit to the secular Jewish family of Józef Goldszmit (1844–1896) and Cecylia, née Gębická (ca. 1854–1920). His father was a respected lawyer, coming from a family of supporters of the Haskala Jewish Enlightenment movement from Lublin, while his mother was born into a prominent Jewish family from Kalisz. The family often moved within Warsaw. At the age of eight, he started studying at the Augustyn Szmurł primary school, after which he continued at the Gimnazjum Praskie high school. Teaching was in Russian and, with the exception of literature, to which he devoted all his free time, he did not like school (he even repeated one grade). Around the age of twelve, his father fell ill and was placed in a mental institution, where he died in April 1896. Young Goldszmit had to start making extra money by tutoring students in order to financially support his mother and sister Anna. In 1896, he made his literary debut in the satirical weekly Kolce. Two years later, he successfully completed his high school studies and at the same time used his literary pseudonym Janusz Korczak for the first time (this happened in the Paderewski literary competition). In 1898, he also entered the medical faculty of the Imperial University in Warsaw (Uniwersytet Cesarski in Polish, known today as the University of Warsaw), where he studied, among other things, anatomy and bacteriology with Edward Przewoski, zoology with Nikołaj Nasonow and psychiatry with Alexander Szczerbak. In 1899, he first encountered Zionism during the World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. That same year, he was briefly arrested by Russian authorities; either for activities in the Warsaw charity association or for connecting to the striking students of the Tsarist University. He was literary during his studies; he contributed articles and reviews to the weekly Kolce and a number of other periodicals, and in 1901 he published his first novel entitled Děti ulice (Dzieci ulicy). In the nineties of the 18th century, he also studied at the so-called Flying University (Uniwersytet Latający), where he was taught by, among others, Waclaw Nałkowski. He completed his medical studies after six years in 1904 (he had to repeat one year). At the end of his studies, he started going to summer children's camps as an educator. He later used this experience in his teaching practice, and it served as the basis for his two books Mośki, Joski i Srule (1910) and Józki, Jaśki i Franki (1911). In March 1905, he received his doctorate and joined the Bersohns and Baumans Children's Hospital in Warsaw. After the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, he was conscripted into the Russian army in June 1905 and sent to the Far East, where he served as a military doctor until March 1906. In 1906, he published the book Dítě z prijíčomáčí pokoje (Dziecko Salonu), for which he received literary recognition and became a sought-after pediatrician. After the war he returned to medical practice. In order to expand his medical knowledge, he went to Berlin in 1907 at his own expense for a one-year study stay and in 1910 for a six-month study stay in Paris, where he studied pediatrics and pedagogy. In 1910 or 1911 odces