Survivors Yitzhak Skalka (L) and Yitzhak Belfer (R) lay a wreath at Janusz Korczak Square at Yad Vashem
05 August 2010
On August 5, 2010 Yad Vashem marked 68 years since the deportation to Treblinka of Janusz Korczak, Stefania Wilczynska, and the children of their orphanage from the Warsaw Ghetto. Holocaust survivor Yitzhak Belfer who resided in Korczak's orphanage in Warsaw and some 70 youth group members participated in a memorial ceremony at Janusz Korczak Square at Yad Vashem. As part of a workshop that took place during the course of the day, members of the HaMachanot HaOlim youth movement heard Yitzhak Belfer's testimony.
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.
Stefania Wilczynska was born in 1886 in Poland and completed her studies at the University of Liége, Belgium. In 1909, she met Korczak and the two began working together. When World War I began, Korczak was recruited and Stefania remained in charge of running the orphanage, which had expanded and now housed some 150 children. In 1935, she visited Eretz Israel and lived at Ein Harod until 1939. With the Nazi occupation, the members of Ein Harod arranged for her the possibility of leaving Poland, but she turned it down and moved to the ghetto along with Dr. Korczak and the children.
In August 1942, during a 2-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 with Korczak in the lead. He and Stefania never abandoned the children, even to the very end. Korczak, Wilczynska and the children were sent to Treblinka, where they were all murdered.