He refused to escape

Repeated times, friends urged Janusz Korczak  to escape before the Nazis deported him to a death camp. As an internationally famous author and intellectual, the Jewish pediatrician, head of a Warsaw orphanage, would get special treatment — if he wanted it.

But Janusz determined to stay with his charges, 192 Jewish orphans. When Nazis deported them to the Treblinka extermination camp, Janusz lied to the tykes. He told them to wear their finest clothes because they were going on a field trip. They filed out in pairs that August day of 1942. At the head, according to one observer, one kid played a violin. At the tail, Janusz carried a couple of the younger kids who were not so able to walk. They ignored their fate because Janusz didn´t want them to suffer crying.

For the kids, there was no hope. But Janusz could have saved himself. Urban legend holds it that an SS officer, who loved Janusz´s children´s book, urged him to flee to freedom. He refused. He would stay with his kids to the end — and die with them. This year, 2012, is 100 years since he opened his orphanage.

Janusz — for his kids — paid the ultimate price. What are you UNwilling to do — for God?

5 responses to “He refused to escape

  1. Janusz Korczak was a great man. Before the deportation action He was offered help to leave the Warsaw Ghetto by his Polish friends, he refused to leave the children. But what you have written above about the Nazi help offered to him is definately not true. He was not treated better than others. In 1940 he was arrested and inprisoned for he did not wear the armband with a Star of David. Can you show any historical sources proving that he was 3 times offered help by the Nazis? Also the story about a child playing the violin and Janusz Korczak carried a couple of the younger kids who were not so able to walk is a very beautiful, romantic story, but only a legend. His tragic fate is also a fate of more than 300 thousand other Warsaw Jews deported to Treblinka, and eventually he – as all others – had no choice. There is no need to create more romantic stories of human tragedy. There was no romanticism in this, only fear, hopelessness and death. The truth speaks louder than fairy-tales.
    Best regards, Ewa

  2. Mike, there are many legendary versions of the Korczak’s last walk to Umschlagplatz (deportation site from Warsaw to Treblinka), but most of them are not true. You can use any of them and you have right to do so…. but, to be accurate – you should just tell your readers that this is a legend. If you don’t – you give them the false impression and you spread the myths. I hope that your post will inspire your readers to read more about Korczak himself and the Warsaw Ghetto as well, specially that the current year – 2012 – is Janusz Korczak’s year in Poland, marking 100 anniversary of opening the orphanage (1912) and 70 anniversary of his death (1942).
    All the best, Ewa

    • Dear Tourwarsaw, After reading your comment and re-thinking, I have made some minor changes that I hope will help to NOT promote myth but still contribute to his stature and inspire people to live in greatness. You are right to observe that great people attract myths and don’t need myths to conserve their greatness. Thank you for your contributions. Yours, Mike

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