Auschwitz: “Good Work Will Make Men Free”
Although this picture displays the deceitful welcoming message above the entry to the Auschwitz death camp, this brief note is written as a memorial for Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jew.
A few years after graduating from medical school, in 1912 Korczak became the director of the Jewish orphanage of Warsaw, providing empathic, clinically insightful care for children from the slums. From then on until his death, he worked at the orphanage.
Shortly after the beginning of the Nazis occupation of Warsaw, an order was made by the Germans demanding that all Jewish persons had to live in a small area of Warsaw that came to be known as the infamous “Warsaw Ghetto”, where they would be destined to perish. The orphanage that Korczak directed was also ordered to relocate to the ghetto, and he continued his work at the orphanage there.
On August 6, 1942, the Nazis issued an order that the two hundred children living in the Jewish orphanage of the Warsaw Ghetto were to be taken to a train station and packed into railroad cars. Korczak, like other Jews in the ghetto, knew that the train’s destination was the Treblinka death camp, where all of the children would be murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka.
On the designated day for their arrival at the train station, Korczak appointed the oldest boy in the orphanage to lead the group, carrying a flag of hope, a four-leaf clover on a field of green–the emblem of the orphanage. Korczak walked immediately behind this leader, gently holding the hands of the two youngest children. Behind them, in excellent order, marched all the other children of the orphanage. The impression of the children’s self-confidence struck the policemen, who previously had been whipping and cursing the Jews into the railroad cars, so much that they immediately snapped to attention and officially saluted them. One of the guards was so deeply moved by this unexpected event that he told Korczak to leave–adamantly stating that only the children had been ordered to board the train. As he tried to move Korczak away from the children, Korczak refused to separate himself from the children and went with them to Treblinka, where they all would die.
Korczak’s freely chosen death would signify the utter righteousness of his life. After World War II, Janusz Korczak became a legend in Poland, Europe and other countries outside of Europe. He was posthumously awarded the German Peace Price and honored on the hundredth anniversary of his birthday by UNESCO officially declaring that year to be Korczak Year, as well as by Poland and many other countries. Pope Paul II stated that in our modern world, Janusz Korczak was a symbol of true religion and morality.
He should be memorialized today, serving to provide a true example for those who continue to work with young persons, as one who devoted his own life’s work as the most devoted friend of children.
Please Share This: