For the Love of a Child

 

Stories of heroes during the Holocaust are abundant, but every now and then a particular story catches my eye and grabs my heart, especially if it connects to current events. The story of Janusz Korczak is one of those stories.

Janusz Korczak was born into an assimilated Jewish family in Poland in 1878. He became a writer, then a pediatrician, and even served as a doctor in the military in the Russo-Japanese war. Eventually, he realized that his true passion rested with education, and in 1911 he founded an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland, called Dom Sierot.

He loved teaching and empowering children, too:

During his work with the orphanage, Korczak helped the children to make their own newspaper (editing this before publication), which became part of the Nasz Przeglad, a popular Polish-Jewish newspaper at the time. This newspaper was called the Maly Przeglad (or ‘The Little Review’).

When World War II erupted, Korczak wanted to volunteer for the Polish Army, but he was too old, so he kept his orphanage open. The number of children grew as the war progressed. Then his charges were forced into the Warsaw ghetto:

Despite his poor health conditions, Korczak put all his energy into bettering the lives of his children from within the Warsaw Ghetto. He was offered shelter many times, by such aid groups as Zegota (the underground Polish resistance group, dedicated to helping Jewish people throughout the war in Poland during German occupancy). Every time Korczak was offered shelter, he would refuse it, saying that he could not abandon his children.

Still, Korczak did his best to maintain his goals with his children:

The educator would continue to organize plays and concerts with the children that attracted all sorts of people from within the surrounding area.

In addition to this, every Saturday after the director of Dom Sierot and his members of staff had their weekly educator’s meeting, Korczak would tell a story that the children had chosen for him to read. Korczak tried his very best to keep the children educated throughout their time in the ghetto, striving to instill within the orphans the values of honesty and truth in these trying times.

He never abandoned his children. In August of 1942, Korczak, his Deputy Director Stefania Wilcznska, and 12 of his staff, along with 200 children were transported to Treblinka where they died in the gas chambers.

*     *     *     *

Today’s children have been, and continue to be, victimized by the education system. Their tribulations are not on the scale of children in the Holocaust. But I couldn’t help but be touched and impressed by the dedication of Janusz Korczak to his children. Their education was paramount for him; he devoted his time to stimulating their curiosity and their creativity. Even in the worst of circumstances, he chose to enrich their lives; even when his own life was in danger, he stayed with them, courageous to the end.

When I look at our own education system in which our children are immersed, I mourn our losses. Instead of inspiring creativity, our children are brainwashed by their teachers. Instead of instilling traditional values, including love and compassion, they are taught propaganda and inhumane values. Unlike Korczak who refused to abandon his children at the risk of losing his life, our own children have been abandoned by their teachers and the system. Those teachers couldn’t begin to understand Korczak’s selfless dedication:

Korczak wrote an apt note in his diary, later published as Ghetto Diary, reflecting on his life; it stated that ‘My life has been difficult but interesting. In my younger days I asked God for precisely that.’

We can thank G-d for men like Janusz Korczak.

[photo courtesy of https://www.korczak.org.uk/korczak.html]

Published in Education
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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Susan Quinn: We can thank G-d for men like Janusz Korczak.

    Amen.

    • #1
  2. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Lovely.  Thanks for sharing this, Susan.  I’ll amen your thanks to G-d, and pray that he send more of the same.  Teacher behavior throughout the pandemic has been shameful.  If for nothing else, we should be thankful that the crisis exposed what’s been going on in the Education establishment.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Lovely. Thanks for sharing this, Susan. I’ll amen your thanks to G-d, and pray that he send more of the same. Teacher behavior throughout the pandemic has been shameful. If for nothing else, we should be thankful that the crisis exposed what’s been going on in the Education establishment.

    It would be interesting to write a post (maybe someone has) on the benefits that came out of the pandemic. Hm.mm.m…..

    • #3
  4. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Lovely. Thanks for sharing this, Susan. I’ll amen your thanks to G-d, and pray that he send more of the same. Teacher behavior throughout the pandemic has been shameful. If for nothing else, we should be thankful that the crisis exposed what’s been going on in the Education establishment.

    It would be interesting to write a post (maybe someone has) on the benefits that came out of the pandemic. Hm.mm.m…..

    Please do that, Susan. We need to hear it. That may be the greatest good coming out of the Covid epidemic — a more widespread move toward school choice and home schooling.

    • #4
  5. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    What a great man.

    • #5
  6. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    There are still heroes in schools.  It’s just that they are not permitted to influence policy anymore.

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    There are still heroes in schools. It’s just that they are not permitted to influence policy anymore.

    Well, there are certainly people who teach differently, against the status quo. But are there teachers who forcefully fight the administration, risking their jobs? Not too many of them, if there are. I realize the effort would be like pushing a boulder up a hill. I also realize that there are probably teachers who teach properly and just do their own thing under the radar. But is that heroic? Yes, I know that the teachers’ unions also make it near impossible, too. Just thinking out loud . . . 

    • #7
  8. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    There are still heroes in schools. It’s just that they are not permitted to influence policy anymore.

    Well, there are certainly people who teach differently, against the status quo. But are there teachers who forcefully fight the administration, risking their jobs? Not too many of them, if there are. I realize the effort would be like pushing a boulder up a hill. I also realize that there are probably teachers who teach properly and just do their own thing under the radar. But is that heroic? Yes, I know that the teachers’ unions also make it near impossible, too. Just thinking out loud . . .

    In a lot of public schools, just showing up to teach every day can be a pretty brave thing.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    In a lot of public schools, just showing up to teach every day can be a pretty brave thing.

    Now I agree with that! If that’s what you mean by heroic, I’m with you. Too bad so many can’t be armed . . . 

    • #9
  10. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn: He never abandoned his children. In August of 1942, Korczak, his Deputy Director Stefania Wilcznska and twelve of his staff, along with 200 children were transported to Treblinka where they died in the gas chambers.

    Tragic . . .

    • #10
  11. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: He never abandoned his children. In August of 1942, Korczak, his Deputy Director Stefania Wilcznska and twelve of his staff, along with 200 children were transported to Treblinka where they died in the gas chambers.

    Tragic . . .

    Evil…

    • #11
  12. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: He never abandoned his children. In August of 1942, Korczak, his Deputy Director Stefania Wilcznska and twelve of his staff, along with 200 children were transported to Treblinka where they died in the gas chambers.

    Tragic . . .

    Evil…

    Somebody had to turn the gas on.  In a room full of kids.  Imagine if that was your job.  Could you do it? 

    Of course you could.  You’re no better than the poor bastard who found himself in that position on that day.  And neither am I.  You’d rationalize it just like he did.  Just doing my job.  Or whatever.  We just do the best we can, right? 

    Absolutely incredible. 

    Except it’s not.  It’s just humanity. 

    And still some folks suggest that humans act in their own self interest.  No. 

    Humanity, in the absence of divine oversight, is horrifying.

    And so are you.  And so am I. 

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: He never abandoned his children. In August of 1942, Korczak, his Deputy Director Stefania Wilcznska and twelve of his staff, along with 200 children were transported to Treblinka where they died in the gas chambers.

    Tragic . . .

    Evil…

    Somebody had to turn the gas on. In a room full of kids. Imagine if that was your job. Could you do it?

    Of course you could. You’re no better than the poor bastard who found himself in that position on that day. And neither am I. You’d rationalize it just like he did. Just doing my job. Or whatever. We just do the best we can, right?

    Absolutely incredible.

    Except it’s not. It’s just humanity.

    And still some folks suggest that humans act in their own self interest. No.

    Humanity, in the absence of divine oversight, is horrifying.

    And so are you. And so am I.

    I can’t let this comment go by, Dr. Bastiat. I think all human beings have the potential for evil. But there are degrees of evil, and I have to believe that I would try to escape that duty, even if it meant I would be shot. I’m not saying that I’ve never done anything that arises to the level of evil, although I would be hard-pressed to think of one. But also, I am not a compliant German. I don’t hate Jews (and I am one).

    Living a life within the sacred requires commitment and sometimes sacrifice. Many people will do all sorts of things to survive, to get by, to get what they want, to be accepted. I do believe that I live under divine oversight, and I don’t know if I would respond differently if I didn’t believe that. But I do. And I do not believe I would have gassed those children.

    • #13
  14. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Susan Quinn: We can thank G-d for men like Janusz Korczak.

    Saints and angels come across our lives all the time.  We just don’t realize at the time.  That is a man that deserves our honor.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I realize that a lot of people are not following this post, but I’m curious to know whether any of you had a reaction to Dr. Bastiat’s comment #12. He wasn’t just talking about humanity in some abstract way (the way I read the comment); he was talking about each of us (and he included himself) being willing to push the button to gas hundreds if not thousands of people. Is that how you see yourself? Do you believe that if you were pushed into the position of “pushing the button” you would comply? Or do you think I misread his comment. I’d invite @drbastiat to clarify if I misunderstood. Obviously, a lot of people went along in Germany. Do you think that you would go along here?

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    . . .he was talking about each of us (and he included himself) being willing to push the button to gas hundreds if not thousands of people.

    Children, I don’t think I could. But he does have a caveat:

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    Humanity, in the absence of divine oversight, is horrifying.

    On the other hand, were it two hundred Democrat politicians? Much harder to say.

    • #16
  17. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Obviously, a lot of people went along in Germany. Do you think that you would go along here?

    Unless we’re somehow better than those people in the 1940’s, it’s not clear to me that we would behave differently.  They were under a lot of pressure, of course.  The guy who pushed the button to gas those kids – that was probably not the first unpleasant task he’d been given.  Maybe you build up a tolerance to things?  I wonder how long it took him to get from a kid playing ball in the street to someone capable of doing such a thing?  What had to happen to make that transition possible?

    I don’t know.

    But I do know that the Nazis were not a special case.  Think of the Ukraine famine.  The modern Islamist movement.  Mao’s China.  American slavery in the early 1800’s.  The Soviet Gulag.  The Aztec sacrifices.  The Roman games.  The brutality of American Indian conflicts with each other.  Modern day North Korea.  And on and on and on.

    We can all say that we would never engage in such horrible activities.  And maybe not, I suppose.  But I find such claims to be very difficult to take seriously.

    We’re just people.  And people do horrible things.  Throughout history, across the world.  Such horror was not an isolated aberration in Germany in the early 1940’s.   It’s all throughout history.

    Are we better than, well, nearly everybody else who has ever lived?

    Man, I don’t know…

    This is why I fear centralized control.  I don’t trust men to have power over men.  That rarely ends well.  I don’t trust anyone in positions of enormous power.  And I certainly don’t trust myself in that position, either.

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Obviously, a lot of people went along in Germany. Do you think that you would go along here?

    Unless we’re somehow better than those people in the 1940’s, it’s not clear to me that we would behave differently. They were under a lot of pressure, of course. The guy who pushed the button to gas those kids – that was probably not the first unpleasant task he’d been given. Maybe you build up a tolerance to things? I wonder how long it took him to get from a kid playing ball in the street to someone capable of doing such a thing? What had to happen to make that transition possible?

    I don’t know.

    But I do know that the Nazis were not a special case. Think of the Ukraine famine. The modern Islamist movement. Mao’s China. American slavery in the early 1800’s. The Soviet Gulag. The Aztec sacrifices. The Roman games. The brutality of American Indian conflicts with each other. Modern day North Korea. And on and on and on.

    We can all say that we would never engage in such horrible activities. And maybe not, I suppose. But I find such claims to be very difficult to take seriously.

    We’re just people. And people do horrible things. Throughout history, across the world. Such horror was not an isolated aberration in Germany in the early 1940’s. It’s all throughout history.

    Are we better than, well, nearly everybody else who has ever lived?

    Man, I don’t know…

    This is why I fear centralized control. I don’t trust men to have power over men. That rarely ends well. I don’t trust anyone in positions of enormous power. And I certainly don’t trust myself in that position, either.

    A thoughtful and sincere response, Dr. B. I think my difficulty is with the generalizations. When you say, we’re just people, it lumps us all together. Not every German pushed the button. Not every German shot Jews (and I’m certainly not defending any of them!) But even during slavery, there were people who fought slavery, and ultimately we got rid of it. All those other civilizations were horrible in their own ways, too. But the modern ones are godless. I guess a part of me wants to believe that there are those of us who would stand up to the autocrats and dictators–enough of us to stop them.

    But like you, I worry. And I would still like to believe that I wouldn’t be able to push the button. Thanks.

    • #18
  19. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I think my difficulty is with the generalizations. When you say, we’re just people, it lumps us all together. Not every German pushed the button.

    Very fair point.  Although I would argue that all of us are capable of evil under the right circumstances.  Which means we should study those circumstances, and try to avoid them.

     

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I would still like to believe that I wouldn’t be able to push the button.

    I’ll bet the soldier who did push the button couldn’t have done it, either, ten years before that.  Maybe even one year before that.  So what circumstances led him to that point?

    I’m not sure.  And like you, I like to think that I would have the strength of character to resist such indoctrination, regardless of the pressure on me.  Although I’ll bet the ghost of the soldier who pushed the button is laughing at me as I type those words.

    The capacity of humans to rationalize behavior which is absurd and/or vicious seems nearly infinite, to me.

    I could be wrong.  But history suggests that I’m right, I think.

    • #19
  20. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I realize that a lot of people are not following this post, but I’m curious to know whether any of you had a reaction to Dr. Bastiat’s comment #12. He wasn’t just talking about humanity in some abstract way (the way I read the comment); he was talking about each of us (and he included himself) being willing to push the button to gas hundreds if not thousands of people. Is that how you see yourself? Do you believe that if you were pushed into the position of “pushing the button” you would comply? Or do you think I misread his comment. I’d invite @ drbastiat to clarify if I misunderstood. Obviously, a lot of people went along in Germany. Do you think that you would go along here?

    My answer involves the account of a Chinese medical resident when he was first instructed to cut the kidneys and eyes out of a living prisoner.  I think he couldn’t finish, and the attending doctor had to finish it.  Either way he didn’t attempt it again, and was replaced my the next resident.  The impression I got from the telling is that most doctors just do it, and few find it so morally repugnant that they won’t or can’t do it.

    Pushing a button or turning a dial is much easier.

    • #20
  21. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Obviously, a lot of people went along in Germany. Do you think that you would go along here?

    Unless we’re somehow better than those people in the 1940’s, it’s not clear to me that we would behave differently. They were under a lot of pressure, of course. The guy who pushed the button to gas those kids – that was probably not the first unpleasant task he’d been given. Maybe you build up a tolerance to things? I wonder how long it took him to get from a kid playing ball in the street to someone capable of doing such a thing? What had to happen to make that transition possible?

    I don’t know.

    But I do know that the Nazis were not a special case. Think of the Ukraine famine. The modern Islamist movement. Mao’s China. American slavery in the early 1800’s. The Soviet Gulag. The Aztec sacrifices. The Roman games. The brutality of American Indian conflicts with each other. Modern day North Korea. And on and on and on.

    We can all say that we would never engage in such horrible activities. And maybe not, I suppose. But I find such claims to be very difficult to take seriously.

    We’re just people. And people do horrible things. Throughout history, across the world. Such horror was not an isolated aberration in Germany in the early 1940’s. It’s all throughout history.

    Are we better than, well, nearly everybody else who has ever lived?

    Man, I don’t know…

    This is why I fear centralized control. I don’t trust men to have power over men. That rarely ends well. I don’t trust anyone in positions of enormous power. And I certainly don’t trust myself in that position, either.

    And not to get to ghoulish, but I’ve never been able to understand the public’s excitement? to see a hanging.

    • #21
  22. Charles Mark Member
    Charles Mark
    @CharlesMark

    In the last year or so I read a novel – The Book of Aron- which essentially is the story of Korczak in the ghetto.  It was reasonably good. It’s interesting to hear more about him now. 

    • #22
  23. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I realize that a lot of people are not following this post, but I’m curious to know whether any of you had a reaction to Dr. Bastiat’s comment #12. He wasn’t just talking about humanity in some abstract way (the way I read the comment); he was talking about each of us (and he included himself) being willing to push the button to gas hundreds if not thousands of people. Is that how you see yourself? Do you believe that if you were pushed into the position of “pushing the button” you would comply? Or do you think I misread his comment. I’d invite @ drbastiat to clarify if I misunderstood. Obviously, a lot of people went along in Germany. Do you think that you would go along here?

    Well not everyone would go along.  Have you heard of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the saint of Auschwitz?  If you haven’t, read the link.  There are many people who will jump onto a live grenade to prevent others from being killed.  They should be honored to the max.  I don’t know for sure what I would do if I were placed in that situation with gassing kids.  I’m pretty sure today, given my age, understanding of the moral ramifications, and my religious conversion, it is very likely I would refuse and accept death.  Of course one doesn’t really know 100% until one is in that situation.  

    • #23
  24. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    This type of topic really isn’t my bag, but I will take a shot at it.

    I don’t think people are really going to be moral unless they have a fear of being punished by God. Plenty of atheist analysts agree that is a way this country holds together. (I think inflationism is theft. The people in power don’t want to give it up. They are highly immoral, but they don’t know it and most people don’t even notice it. The tendency is to be immoral.)

    I have a feeling that the Weimar Republic problems really confused people on the way out and up. 

    • #24
  25. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    This type of topic really isn’t my bag, but I will take a shot at it.

    I don’t think people are really going to be moral unless they have a fear of being punished by God.

    No, it’s not a fear of G-d, but an embrace of G-d. Technically I don’t think it’s even a sin if you are so forced to commit an evil. But it is a joy to G-d when you go beyond human frailty.   “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25: 23) That is what you want to hear as He embraces you into paradise. 

    • #25
  26. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Manny (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    This type of topic really isn’t my bag, but I will take a shot at it.

    I don’t think people are really going to be moral unless they have a fear of being punished by God.

    No, it’s not a fear of G-d, but an embrace of G-d. Technically I don’t think it’s even a sin if you are so forced to commit an evil. But it is a joy to G-d when you go beyond human frailty. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25: 23) That is what you want to hear as He embraces you into paradise.

    All I’m talking about is how society works or actually can work.

    I don’t know what the percentages are, but some people are more effective with positive motivation and others are more effective with negative motivation. Something like that. Maybe it’s more situational as well.

    I really don’t have a head for this stuff beyond that. People at this place go on and on about esoteric stuff that I just cannot follow or use.

    One of my new theories is, everybody has to embrace the Judge Learned Hand spirit of liberty speech. That is the way our constitution is written. I have mentioned it several times and nobody has said I was wrong.

    • #26
  27. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    In other words, I think the idea that everybody is going to be actually moral based on observation is ridiculous. The logical thing is to kill people and take their stuff. I get criticized for saying that, but if you even back off just 75% from that, you are still going to have a crappy society. 

    • #27
  28. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    In other words, I think the idea that everybody is going to be actually moral based on observation is ridiculous. The logical thing is to kill people and take their stuff. I get criticized for saying that, but if you even back off just 75% from that, you are still going to have a crappy society.

    Well, not everyone is going to be moral.  Here’s something to think about Rufus that’s not esoteric but is pretty deep.  There is the Thomas Hobbes view of human nature that society was created to prevent people from killing each other and “taking their stuff.”  The underlying assumption there is that humanity given freedom is essentially depraved.  Then there is the opposite view of human nature.  I forget where I first read it but it was probably a Catholic theologian.  That is, that humanity is essentially frail and given to temptation, and that society was created so people can work together and compensate for their deficiencies.

    I do not believe that humanity is essentially depraved.  I do not find that Calvinist point of view in human nature.  I see what I think I see in Adam and Eve, that is people who are not totally corrupt but have the possibility of doing wrong if tempted.  Not everyone is going to be moral because they give in and reject their G-d given conscience.  But that conscience is there.  They also don’t commit crimes  and hurt others.  They raise families and are good neighbors and give people a helping hand.

    Of course how you see human nature has implications.  Can a free, capitalist society even work if human nature were depraved at its core?  Is capitalism a Darwinian state of nature where we are trying to destroy other people and come out on top or are we trying to work together to strive for the best social outcome?

    Anyway, don’t decide how you see it right now.  Keep this thought in your head and ponder on it every so often, especially as you observe friends and family conduct their lives.  Take a year to consider.  Take ten years.  It’s one of those things that one can contemplate upon for a lifetime.

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Manny (View Comment):
    Anyway, don’t decide how you see it right now.  Keep this thought in your head and ponder on it every so often, especially as you observe friends and family conduct their lives.  Take a year to consider.  Take ten years.  It’s one of those things that one can contemplate upon for a lifetime.

    Beautiful and thoughtful, @manny. I think conscience plays a big role, and whether we value it or pay attention to it. And I also believe we are able to choose whether to act for the good or the bad through free will. I don’t choose based on whether I will be punished or not; I choose because I love G-d and want to follow his ways; because I value relationships; and because the good is beautiful.

    • #29
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