Friday, May 21, 2010

Poignant memorial honors Jewish hero

Editor's note: One great thing about having your own blog is you can do whatever you want with it. So I declare each Friday on "This&That" to be "Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts" day (IJS&F). Our premier entry begins with details about a Holocaust memorial in Warsaw that I visited during a trip to Eastern Europe. Return next Friday -- and every Friday -- for more "Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts" focusing on Jewish ritual, Israel and the Holocaust.

When visiting the Okopowa Street Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, one of the first sites that will capture your attention is a memorial to Janusz Korczak.

Off to one side of the main walkway, the poignant sculpture features Korczak holding a child while other children follow behind. Where they're headed is the focus of the piece and the stuff of legend.

Korczak was a Polish-Jewish children's author, pediatrician and child advocate. A Jewish orphanage he created and ran in the early years of the 20th Century was moved to the Warsaw Ghetto after the Germans occupied Poland in 1939.

In the summer of 1942, the Nazis ordered that the orphanage be closed and the 200 children living there be deported to Treblinka.

Korczak, beloved and respected for his children books and philanthropic efforts, received several offers to smuggle him out of the ghetto. He declined. Instead, Korczak remained with his children, telling them they were headed to the country on holiday.

He had them dress in their best clothes, then marched along with them to the Umschlagplatz, the staging area in Warsaw for Jews being transported to Treblinka. Legend suggests he was still marching with the youngsters when they entered the gas chambers at the camp and were murdered.

MEMORABLE MEMORIAL: This poignant statue (photo above), showing a Jewish orphan clinging to Janusz Korczak, is on the fringes of the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

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