The Train to Toyland: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka and Auschwitz

The Train to Toyland: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka and Auschwitz

Terror lurks beneath white lies about sparkling diamonds in the sky,
Useless illusions in the face of Crystal Night’s shards of broken glass,
Tears to remember the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka, Auschwitz,
And Janusz Korczak, a symbol of compassionate morality for our times
.”

The Train to Toyland: A Heartbreaking Tale of the Holocaust

Toyland (Spielzeugland) is the 2009 Academy Awards Winner for the Best Live Action Short Film. Set in 1942 Germany, this absorbing 14-minute short film reflects back to harrowing memories about a prelude to the Holocaust, in particular the 1938 Nazi Kristallnacht (The Night of Shattered Crystal) in Germany. Toyland tells the powerful story of a German mother in those early days of WWII whose son is best friends with a Jewish boy living next door, both of whom are given piano lessons by the friend’s father. When the mother learns that the neighboring Jewish family is scheduled to be picked up and taken away by the Nazi’s on the very next day, she attempts to placate her own son’s curiosity about their surprise trip by telling him that his friend is merely making a vacation visit to “Toyland” in Switzerland.

What begins as the mother’s seemingly innocent attempt to protect her son from an awareness of the Nazi’s disturbingly evil barbarian brutalities unexpectedly leads him to become obsessed with going to “Toyland” along with the Jewish family and his best friend. The film’s story unfolds in a rare time-sequence series of flashback and flashforward rotations. Simultaneously, embedded in this curiously non-linear progression of events are multiple juxtapositioned experiential perspectives of both the mother and her son. It is a truly unusual dialectical cinematographic rendering of interactive human memory, which reaches its startling conclusion in an incredibly subtle twist of bittersweet fate.

Unpacking the emotional complexities of Toyland unveiled recollections about the uncommonly courageous acts of Janusz Korczak, which are seldom mentioned today. However, this important short film impresses us with an irresistible message about the importance of “remembering to remember” the life of Janusz Korczak. On August 6nd, 1942, reflecting his lifelong compassionate devotion to both children and the rights of children, Korczak adamantly refused offers for his own safety and with defiant dignity he led the orphans under his care in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto to the trains that ultimately would take them all to death at the Treblinka Death Camp.

The Train to Toyland: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka and Auschwitz

Children in the Streets of Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto

Janusz Korczak with Children and Staff Members at the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Orphanage

Janusz Korczak with Children at the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Orphanage

Janusz Korczak: A Symbol of Compassionate Morality for Our Times

Janusz Korczak: An Important Tale for Our Times

A few years after graduating from medical school, in 1912 Janusz Korczak became the director of the Jewish orphanage of Warsaw, providing empathic, clinically insightful care for children from the slums. From then 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 6th, 1942, the Nazis issued an order that the two hundred children living in Korczak’s Jewish orphanage 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 perfect 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, wondrous sight that he told Korczak to leave, adamantly stating that only the children had been ordered to board the train. As he tried to push Korczak away from the children, Korczak refused to separate himself from the children and went with them to the Treblinka concentration camp, 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.

Slide Show: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, the Train to Treblinka and the Death Camp

(Please Click on Image to the View Slideshow)

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The New Boy: One Day When I Was Lost

The New Boy: One Day When I Was Lost

New Boy has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Live Action Short Film category. The film has already won numerous awards, including Best Irish Short at the Foyle Film Festival 2007, Best Short Film at the prestigious Irish Film and Television Academy Awards 2008, Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival 2008 (USA), Best Short Film at the 2008 Rhode Island Film Festival (USA), the Melbourne International Film Festival 2008 (Outstanding Short Film Promoting Human Values) and a Special Mention at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival.

New Boy takes us inside the mind of a young boy named Joseph during his first day in a new classroom. But Joseph’s not just any new boy, he’s an immigrant African child in an Irish classroom, seated right in front of the local bully. He’s also a boy who recently had lost his father (who was also his teacher) to war. Joseph witnessed first-hand the brutality of soldiers against his father in Africa, saw his father’s crumpled body and learned something about dealing with a potential enemy.

Joseph has to negotiate between a violent past and a future that looks as though it’s headed the same way. Straddling two worlds, the new boy must struggle to fit in without giving in. And living with the ever-present memory of his father, Joseph must find a way to stand up for himself while acting responsibly, just as his father would have wanted. The day that Joseph initially felt he was lost eventually came to be a day that he ultimately found a renewed sense of self, as well as the fulfillment of deep yearnings for reconciliation with his lost father.

While this deeply touching short film illuminates the more particular feelings of being the “new kid” at school, it also stands as a broader metaphor for our struggles with feelings of being an outsider in more general settings (at work, in a group, in a different city or country), as well as for the painful feelings of alienation suffered by persons and groups experiencing rejection by society. The film is an excursion into complicated contemporary multicultural realities. However, rather than attempting to teach or preach about simplistic lessons in social tolerance, New Boy shows how very tricky such lessons can be, either to teach or to learn.

New Boy: One Day When I Was Lost

A wonderful slideshow of images from the ten contending Academy Award short films can be viewed here.

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