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Marking 75 Years since the Murder of Janusz Korczak, Stefa Wilczynska and the Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto

Members of the Hamachanot Haolim youth movement to fly dozens of kites in their memory

07 August 2017

Tomorrow, 8 August 2017, marks the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Janusz Korczak, Stefa Wilczynska and the children of their orphanage, from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. Members of the Hamachanot Haolim youth movement will participate in an educational seminar to commemorate this significant day, conducted by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in conjunction with Yossi and Reuven Nadel of the Israeli Educational Institute in Memory of Janusz Korczak, and representative of Hamachanot Haolim Liron Avnat.  The seminar will be moderated by Director of the e-Learning Department at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies   Dr. Naama Shik.

At the conclusion of the seminar, a memorial ceremony will take place at Janusz Korczak Square, starting at 16:00. Following the memorial ceremony, participants of Hamachanot Haolim youth movement will fly dozens of kites in the spirit of Janusz Korczak's unique educational worldview, in order to convey his legacy of respect, love and equality of rights – especially for children.

Holocaust survivor Yitzhak Belfer, who resided in Korczak’s orphanage in Warsaw, will lay a wreath beside the monument commemorating Janusz Korczak and the children sent to their deaths at Treblinka in August 1942.

Belfer (88) recalls:

“I had a great love for Dr. Korczak. I was seven years old when I arrived at the orphanage, and was granted the opportunity to be educated under him for eight of the most important years of my life. The doctor walked among us like any other person, never patronizing – spreading love and concern for the children's needs. In the orphanage we learned to believe in people, in the inclination for good that exists within each and every one of us.”

The ceremony will be conducted in the presence of a representative of the Polish Embassy in Israel.

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“Just as the sea gives a child a toy – a boat – so the wind has to give him a kite.”

Janusz Korczak, The Religion of the Child

Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish-born doctor, author and educator. Born in Warsaw to an assimilated Jewish family, Korczak dedicated his life to caring for children, particularly orphans. He believed that children should always be listened to and respected, and this belief was reflected in his work. He wrote several books for and about children, and broadcast a children's radio program. In 1912, Korczak became the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. When World War II broke out in 1939, Korczak first refused to accept the German occupation and heed their regulations (consequently spending time in jail). However, when the Jews of Warsaw were forced to move into a ghetto, Korczak refocused his efforts on the children in his orphanage. Despite offers from Polish friends to hide him on the "Aryan" side of the city, Korczak refused to abandon the children.

Stefa Wilczynska was born in 1886 in Poland and completed her studies at the University of Liège, Belgium. In 1909, she met Korczak and the two began working together. When World War I broke out and Korczak was recruited to fight, Wilczynska remained in charge of running the orphanage, which now housed some 150 children. In 1935, she visited Eretz Israel and lived at Ein Harod before returning to Warsaw in 1939. After the Nazi occupation of Poland, the members of Ein Harod arranged for her to leave Poland, but she turned it down and moved to the ghetto along with Dr. Korczak and the children.

On 5 August 1942, during a two-month wave of deportations from the ghetto, the Nazis rounded up Korczak, Wilczynska and the 200 children of the orphanage. They marched in rows to the Umschlagplatz gathering point, with Korczak in the lead. He and Wilczynska never abandoned the children, even to the very end. Together they were sent to Treblinka, where they were all murdered.