This poignant, beautifully illustrated book about the Holocaust focuses on the role of one man, Janusz Korczak. Not only did this man accompany his orphaned charges when they were taken to the death chambers, but he also created a life for them before this final chapter in their lives.
One of the first people to recognize that children during the ’30s were not miniature adults, Herr Doktor, as the children called him, created a secure and hopeful life for children who were poor or orphaned. He told and wrote stories for both adults and his charges. The key to his success was his respect, patience and love for these innocents. Within the orphanage, he created a “Republic” where a twenty-member “Parliament” and a “Court” run by its inhabitants functioned to take the problems of the children seriously. He also had “a letterbox for writing down feelings when it was hard to talk,” an orphanage newspaper, a mentoring system in which an older child would guide a younger one, and memory cards.
The day that the orphanage was closed and he and the children were sent to “the other side” (the Ghetto), Mister Doctor became infuriated that a cart of potatoes he was taking along was confiscated by a German soldier. Thinking he could get it back, he went dressed in his Polish soldier’s uniform to the Nazi headquarters. Once they discovered that he was Jewish, he was imprisoned. He remained in Pawiak Prison for a month before returning to the children. Life in the Ghetto was harsh. There was little food and many were sick. However, Mister Doctor encouraged the children to keep a diary, as he did. Even though school was forbidden, the children were taught Hebrew, given lectures, and the children put on plays. When the children were rounded up for their last procession to the trains to Treblinka, it was Mister Doctor who was at the head of the line, “a child on each hand.”
Emotionally evocative and haunting illustrations enhance this beautiful book, which also includes biographical data about Janusz Korczak, suggestions for further reading, a list of books authored by Korczak, resources for parents and teachers, and a related internet link.
Recommended for ages 9 – 13.