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“Janusz Korczak of the Children”

“I’m lying in bed, unable to sleep and thinking that had I known then, I would never have wanted to grow up.
It’s a hundred times better to be a child.” 
(Korczak, “When I am Little Again,” in The Child’s Right to Respect)

The exhibition "Korczak of the Children" is dedicated to physician, educator, and author, Janusz Korczak‏. The story of Korczak's life is told through five three-dimensional installations, each representing a different chapter in Korczak’s life. These five stations weave together two parallel stories that together paint a whole picture: the Janusz Korczak narrative and the story of the boy named Stasiek from his arrival at the very lively orphanage until the deportation of the children to Treblinka and the picture of the empty orphanage.

The first station tells the story of Janusz Korczak‏'s childhood. He was born Henryk Goldszmit in Warsaw in 1878 to a family of well-off, assimilated Jews. His father was an attorney, and young Henryk attended a Polish school. He did not even know he was Jewish. The low dirt mound at the center of this station represents a tiny grave that young Henryk once dug for a pet canary he loved. On its grave, Henryk wanted to place a small cross. However, his Polish governess told him: that as he was Jewish – and therefore, his bird was Jewish –thus he ought to place a Star of David on the grave. Henryk didn’t know what a Star of David was – and only when he began to question his mother, did he discover that he was Jewish.

The second station tells about Korczak, the author and radio personality. He began writing at an early age; one of his compositions won an award for excellence, and was published in the newspaper. When the newspaper editor asked young Henryk what pen name he chose for himself, he answered “Janasz Korczak,” after the hero of a book whom he admired.The editor recorded the name incorrectly, and so he became “Janusz Korczak.” Throughout his life, Janusz Korczak‏ wrote – for children, for parents, for educators. A few of his books have been selected for display here. The radio on the table represents his popular radio advice program for parents and children that was broadcast in pre-war Warsaw.

"I have read many interesting books. Now I am reading interesting children. Do not say “I know.”
I read the same child once, twice, three times, ten times,
and after all that I do not know much. For the child is a whole world,
which has existed for a long time and exists forever. I know a little about the
past and the present. But the future?" 

(Korczak, “Rules of Education,” in The Child’s Religion)

The third station represents the period in which Korczak worked as the director of an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw and focuses on the arrival of Stasiek. The orphanage opened in 1912 and was managed by Korczak, with the assistance of Stefa Wilczyńska, a noted educator and competent organizer, who helped him turn his educational vision into a practical reality. The wood-framed folding screen represents Korczak’s role as a pediatrician – the profession that he learned in Warsaw before he began directing the orphanage.

“…I was almost ten years old when my mother took me to Dr. Korczak’s orphanage.
That morning I wasn’t “Brave Srulik” but “Shaya, Shmaya the Crybaby.”
I clung to my mother and raised my face to the sky to stop my tears…
A flock of black ravens, with outspread wings, circled above my head, coming closer
and filling the sky, under gray clouds…Korczak said, “We already have a Srulik and a Srul…
what confusion. Perhaps we will call you Stasiek.” I was wild with joy.
“Now let’s trim this curl so they don’t nickname you Stasiek the Rooster.” Before I could think twice, my head was shaved like the heads
of all the other children in the orphanage. 
(Israel Zyngman (Stasiek), in his book, Janusz Korczak Among the Orphans)

The fourth station represents Korczak’s educational legacy. He is photographed amid the children; to the left stands a swing and a bird cage. His educational beliefs, which were innovative for his time, placed the child and children’s rights at the center, alongside a system of obligations and challenges adapted to the child’s abilities. The Children’s Court, laws that were established with the children’s participation, the editorial board of a children’s newspaper, the Orphanage Council – all helped Korczak, Stefa Wilczyńska, and the young educators whom he trained, to nurture responsible, mature individuals who went out into the world well-prepared for life.

" …Seek the way to yourself; know yourself before you would seek to know the children. Think, for what are you qualified,
and after that you’ll come to the inner place, of the rights and responsibilities of the children.
For first of all you yourself are a child. And you must know how teach and educate yourself.
The supposition that pedagogy is about the child and not about the person,
is one of the most exasperating misconceptions." 
(Korczak, “The Orphanage,” in The Nation of Children)

The fifth station presents the period of the war. The orphanage was relocated into the ghetto. From 1940 through 1942, Korczak, Stefa, and the educators and counselors on its staff tried to give the children a sense of security, despite the difficult conditions, hunger, and disease that were rampant in the ghetto. The birds that appear throughout the exhibition serve as a visual motif that integrates with the life story of Korczak, from Korczak's childhood canary, the sparrows eating on Korczak's windowsill,Stasiek's goldfinch and finally the birds of prey that fly over the orphanage during the war.

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