01 September 2009

A True Hero

Anticipating their calamity and fright when deportation day came, he joined them aboard the train bound for Treblinka, because, he said, he knew his presence would calm them - "You do not leave a sick child in the night, and you do not leave children at a time like this." A photograph taken at the Umschlagplatz shows him marching, hatless, in military boots, hand in hand with several children, while 192 other children and ten staff members follow, four abreast, escorted by German soldiers. Korczak and the children boarded red boxcars not much larger than chicken coops, usually stuffed with 75 vertical adults, though all the children easily fit. In Joshua Perle's eyewitness account, he describes the scene:

"A miracle occurred, 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 Korzcak."

...The Poles claim Korczak as a martyr, and the Israelis revere him as one of the Thirty-Six Just Men, whose pure souls make possible the world's salvation. According to Jewish Legend, these few, through their good hearts and good deeds, keep the too-wicked world from being destroyed. For their sake alone, all of humanity is spared. The legend tells that they are ordinary people, not flawless or magical, and that most of them remain unrecognized throughout their lives while they choose to perpetuate goodness,even in the midst of inferno.

~Diane Ackerman
The Zookeeper's Wife


  1. Thank you for spotlighting this wonderful person. Janusz Korczak was indeed a true hero and his story, love and devotion to children always brings tears to m eyes. He also wrote two great books for children but unfortunately they are unknown (or not very known) in the English speaking world.

  2. This was one of the most memorable passages to me in Ackerman's book, despite the fact it was merely a side story. I'll have to look up those books!

  3. I have had this to read forever and haven't gotten to it. Is it a memoir or fiction? I was under the impression it was part of both?

  4. Ackerman uses the main character's journals to write a narrative of the events and includes historical facts and a bit of artistic license. I believe the book is primarily non-fiction. I definitely recommend you read it!


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