Jonathan Fryer

Celebrating Janusz Korczak

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th January, 2013

Janusz KorczakThe Polish Jewish doctor and writer Henryk Goldszmit, who published under the pen name Janusz Korczak, was for the Nazis a mere statistic, as he perished in Treblinka concentration camp in 1942. But his memory lives on, not just in his books, but for the way he championed the rights of the child, long before that became fashionable. It was only in 1989 that the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child — since ratified by every member state of th UN except Somalia, South Sudan and the United States — but Korczak had long before articulated what he identified as the mistaken way many adults treat children — indeed he promoted the idea that there are no children, only people. He studied medicine and worked for an Orphans’ Aid Society in Warsaw. Posthumously, he gained huge renown in his native Poland but also around the world, and 2012 was declared by the Polish government to be the Year of Januscz Korczak. This week, at Europe House, the London headquarters of both the European Commission representation and the European Parliament office, an exhibition celebrating his life and work opened — admirably muted but very effective — with the assistance of the Polish Cultural Institute. It doesn’t matter that 2012 is over as the legacy remains. Moreover, the true insignifance of dates is underlined by the fact that no-one is quite sure in which year Korczak was born, 1878 or 1879; his lawyer father took a long time to register the birth and the exact details are lost in the mists of time. Korczak’s writings — translated into humrous languages, notably his children’s stories, are his most important testament, but he left many maxims as well, which reflect his noble character. Notably he wrote, despite all that happened to him in the Warsaw Ghetto before transportation to Treblinka, “I bear no malice toward anyone. I am unable to do so. I do not know how.”

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