Mis­ter Doc­tor: Janusz Kor­czak & the Orphans of the War­saw Ghetto

Irene Cohen-Jan­ca Mau­r­izio Quarel­lo, illus.
  • Review
By – December 9, 2015

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.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions