The Center for Holocaust, Genocide, and 

Human Rights ​Education of North Carolina 

Holocaust Speakers Bureau 

Janusz Korczak 

[1] Lewowicki T. Janusz Korczak. Prospects: The quarterly review of comparative education. Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education. 1994;24:37-48

[2] Lewowicki T. Janusz Korczak (1878–1942). p. 4. Accessed 5 February 2013.

Korczak traveled throughout Europe to advance his medical education. During his travels, he demonstrated an interest in the psychology of education. He was  influenced by the educational theories of the period, mainly the ideas brought forth by the New Education Movement. Their guiding principles were that education should be holistic and promote human dignity. The movement advocated raising awareness of children’s rights and their contributing societal role. 

Borrowing heavily from ideas explored by Tolstoy, Korczak developed his own social and pedagogical program: “children are not future people, because they are people already … whose souls contain the seeds of all those thoughts and emotions that we possess … [and] as [they] develop, their growth must be gently directed.”[1] His views that “children should be fully understood … must be respected and loved, treated as partners and friends … [and that] one ought to behave towards [each child as] a respected, thinking and feeling human being”[1] are considered an integral component of the modern approach to social pedagogy.

Korczak firmed up his theories and ideology on the treatment of children in an academic setting and continued to explore  inter-pupil, and pupil-educator relationships in the orphanage he established in Warsaw. He became director of the orphanage in 1912. There, Korczak implemented a system of self-checks, regulatory bodies, and a student-led court that dealt sentences to rule breakers. It was during his time at the orphanage that Korczak published his manifesto “How To Love a Child” on children’s rights, in which he stipulates that “children can only function well if provided with appropriate living conditions.”[2] Korczak provided the children of the orphanage with a climate conducive to educational advancement. His pedagogical thoughts and philosophy are further elaborated in “The Child’s Right to Respect.” 

Korczak remained loyal to orphaned children and ultimately devoted the rest of his life to them by moving with the population of the orphanage to the Warsaw ghetto, which was established in November 1940 after the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Nazis. Because of Korczak’s righteousness and illustrious popularity with the citizens of Poland, he was offered sanctuary many times on the Aryan side,  but he refused because he did not want to abandon the children. Despite the difficulties, Korczak stuck to his educational path. The orphanage continued to operate in the ghetto according to the arrangements that characterized it in the pre-war period, and the children continued to have their own parliament, newspaper and courts. In addition, in view of the harsh reality and sometimes the loss of values outside, Korczak tried his best to educate the children about honesty and truth. 

Remaining true to his ideals, on August 5, 1942, Korczak boarded the train from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp with nearly 200 children of the orphanage. In later years, many recounted the proud dignity with which the children, dressed in their best clothes, boarded the train thinking they were leaving the ghetto for a trip to the countryside, meanwhile Korczak whispered words of hope to them. 

Janusz Korczak Memorial

at the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw

Janusz Korczak and Children’s Rights

                                                                                             -Mirta Glasman

Janusz Korczak was a multifaceted personality whose ideas have transcended the boundaries of time and as a result, his life work is still influencing the development of pedagogical thought and educational practice. Unfortunately, despite the lessons taught by Korczak, child labor, child marriage, recruitment of children into armed conflicts, and other forms of oppression continue to deprive children of their basic rights. 

Today, children's rights are defined in numerous ways, including a wide spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education, the right to a decent standard of living, the right to health, the right to benefit from protection against slavery and torture and the right to live in a safe and healthy environment. 

 International standards on child rights have advanced dramatically over the past century, but there remain gaps in meeting those ideals. The healthy development of children, widely accepted as crucial to the future well-being of any society was advanced by Korczak. He maintained that adults have the responsibility to guard compliance of these rights. 

Janusz Korczak was an inspirational teacher and writer who cared passionately about the rights and welfare of children. Nowhere is this better illustrated than by his heroic, selfless acts in the Warsaw ghetto.

Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit on July 22,1878 to an assimilated Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland. His pseudonym, Janusz Korczak, is derived from a 19th century novel, Janasz Korczak and the Pretty Swordsweeperlady. Korczak was an author, a pediatrician and a pedagogue. This article commemorates the anniversary of his death and the death of the 200 children and staff members from the Warsaw Ghetto’s Orphanage which he directed. They died together on August 7th, 1942 in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp.

Korczak, as a young boy, used to play with children who were poor and lived in abandoned neighborhoods. The environment of his upbringing instilled in him a great humility and sensitivity to social problems. His passion for helping disadvantaged youth continued into his adulthood. He learned at a young age that children are not always respected by adults nor are they given the physical and psychological space to flourish.

 During his youth he demonstrated an interest in science, psychology and education. While at medical school at the University of Warsaw, he was involved in many progressive social groups where he spoke out against poverty, unemployment, and social inequality. In fact, it was during his medical studies that Korczak worked as a tutor at children’s summer camps experimenting with educational relationships as a partnership rather than the previous traditional model with the teacher as the definitive authority figure. 

Janusz Korczak at the Orphanage