Dr. Janusz Korczak emerged from world war 1, in which he was an officer in the polish army, with a vision that children constitute a disticnt class with their own psychology and political identity. he anounced that he would become their Karl Marx. He founded an orphanage in which children governed themselves. They would even come to form their own religion and publish their own newspaper.
The Children's Republic became an ideal for orpahanages all over the world. Its orderliness and spirit were such that when the SS arrived, the children marched through the ghetto behind their flag (King Matt's flag, King Matt being the imaginary Child King of the World). Korczak had been offered sanctuary on the “Aryan side” of Warsaw but turned it down repeatedly, saying that he could not abandon his children. Now too, he refused offers of sanctuary, insisting that he would go with the children. The children were dressed in their best clothes, and each carried a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy. Joshua Perle, an eyewitness, described the procession of Korczak and the children through the ghetto to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps):
... A miracle occurred. Two hundred children did not cry out. Two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak, so that he might protect and preserve them. Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots. A few nurses were followed by two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes, as they were being carried to the altar. (...) On all sides the children were surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians, and this time also Jewish policemen. They whipped and fired shots at them. The very stones of the street wept at the sight of the procession.
According to a popular legend, when the group of orphans finally reached the Umschlagplatz, an SS officer recognized Korczak as the author of one of his favorite children's books and offered to help him escape, but once again, Korczak refused. He boarded the trains with the children and was never heard from again.
in Yad VashemSome time after, there were rumors that the trains had been diverted and that Korczak and the children had survived. There was, however, no basis to these stories. Most likely, Korczak was killed with his children in a gas chamber upon their arrival to Treblinka. There is a memorial grave for him at the Powzki Cemetery in Warsaw.
done on rice paper