Polish director, screenwriter. Studied at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts (painting) and Lódz Film School. Films have documented the historical turmoil of Poland through war, communist revolution and its collapse. Father was a cavalry officer killed in WWII, joined the Resistance (AK - Home Army) against Nazis as a teenager. After military dictatorship installed 1981 AW's "Unit X" film production unit disbanded 1983. After 1989 revolution elected as Solidarity candidate to the Sejm (the Polish parliament) and made a long-planned project about Jewish-Polish pedagogue Janusz Korczak, who died, along with his wards, in a Nazi death camp.


  • A trilogy about occupied Poland under Nazis - A Generation (1954) about young Poles under Nazi occupation, Kanal (Sewer) (1957) about the 1944 Warsaw uprising; Ashes and Diamonds (1958) about the bitter and corrupt conflict in 1945-46 between the anticommunist Home Army and the Communist Party-dominated government (based on novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski).
  • Adaptations of novels: The Birchwood (1970), The Wedding (1972), The Young Girls of Wilko (1979).
  • Historical films depicting the sorrow and tragedy of Polish history especially in wartime: Lotna (1959) Poland in September 1939 on the eve of invasion; Samson (1961); the fate of lancers serving under Napoleon in Ashes (1965); Landscape after Battle (1970) about the Polish poet Tadeusz Borowski who committed suicide in 1959 after having survived Auschwitz.
  • Films showing the moral decay and oppression of Poland in the late 1970s prior to rise of Solidarity movement: the problems of breakneck Stalinist industrialisation in Land of Promise (1975); Man of Marble (1977), Without Anaesthesia (1979), Man of Iron (1980) a semi-documentary about cthe Solidarity movement.
  • Danton (1982) showing the corruption of the ideal of revolution by "Leninist" forces (the military dictatorship in Poland post 1981 or Robespierre)


Meaning of the Title

Named after the Polish doctor, writer, radio personality and advocate of children's rights Janusz Korczak (Henryk Goldszmit) who operated an ophanage in Warsaw during the 1930s and maintained his moral standards after the Nazis invaded his homeland.


  • Wojtek Pszoniak - Janusz Korczak
  • Ewa Dalkowska - Stefa
  • Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska
  • Piotr Kozlowski - Heniek
  • Jan Peszek
  • Marzena Trybala - Estera
  • Edgar Hoppe - German officer
  • Aleksander Bardini - Czerniakow
  • Wlodzimierz Press - old Jew
  • Screenplay - Agnieszka Holland

Henryk Goldszmit born 1878 in Warsaw into a well-off assimilated Jewish family. When his father died when HG was 18 he supported his family by tutoring schoolchildren. Believed children had rights which should be respected, devoted his life to them as pediatrician. Supported himself through medical school by writing stories under pseudonym of "Janusz Korczak". First novel Children of the Street (1901) about life in Warsaw slums. Director of orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw in 1912. Served as army doctor during WW1 and wrote How to Love a Child. After war 1923 wrote children's story King Matt the First semi-autobiographical story about man who fights for rights of children, creates a self-governing children's society independent of adult control, but which ultimate fails. When Nazis occupied Warsaw all Jews (including JK's orphanaged) forced to relocate to ghetto. Struggle to get food, medical supplies, delay in ultimate fate. JK wore his old army uniform instead of yellow star.


Betty Jean Lifton, The King of Children (London: Pan Books, 1988).

Janusz Korczak, King Matt the First (1923), trans. Richard Lourie (New York: Noonday Press, 1988).


  • The moral problem of preparing children to accept their own death; the idea of dying with dignity - euthanasia (a policy also promoted by the Nazis), hospice. What is a doctor's moral duty?
  • Israel has made JK one of the 36 Just Men whose pure souls, according to Jewish tradition, make the world's salvation possible.
  • Compare with Spielberg's Schindler's List - filmed in B&W, the saintly hero. Salvation vs courage in a dignified death.
  • The nature of JK's "resistance" to the Nazis - maintaining his moral standards, some semblance of civilised life in the ghetto (poetry readings, plays). Last play performed by JK's children was banned play by Tagore, The Post Office whcih he believed would help them accept serenely "the angel of death". JK admired performance of play "Masada" at Zylberberg's Hebrew Day School about 3 year resistance of Jews of Roman siege of their mountain fortress which ended in mass suiced of Jews. Play ended with poem:
The chain has not been broken,
The chain continues on,
From parents to children,
From father to son.
This is how our parents danced,
One hand on the next man's back,
And in the other a Sepher Torah,
Bringing light where all was black.
So we, too, will keep on dancing,
With our spiritis all awake.
We will keep on dancing, dancing,
And the chain will never break. (quoted in Lifton, p. 283.)
  • Lifton writes of the loading of the orphans on the train to Treblinka on 6 August, 1942:

At the gate where the ghetto ended, fresh squadrons of SS and Ukrainians were waiting with their whips, guns, and dogs. The children were pushed and shoved through the gate, across the train tracks on the Aryan side, and through another gate, this one opening into the large dirt field by the railway siding which was the Umschalgplatz. Thousands of people - crying, screaming, praying - were already waiting there in the broiling sun. Families huddled together, their meagre belongings tied up in pillowcases or sacks; mothers clung to their children; old people sat in a daze. There was no water, no food, no place to relieve oneself, no protection from the German whips and curses...

(After refusing any assistance or special treatment from Nahum Remba, an official from the Judenrat, because it might mean leaving his children alone JK joined his children on the train) Remba records in his memoir that Korczak headed the first section of children and Stefa the second. Unlike the usual chaotic mass of people shrieking hysterically as they were prodded along with whips, the orphans walked in rows of four with quiet dignity. "I shall never forget this scene as long as I live," Remba wrote. "This was no march to the train cars, but rather a mute protest against this murderous regime... a procession the like of which no human eye has ever witnessed."

As Korczak led his children calmly towards the cattle cars, the Jewish police cordoning off a path for them saluted instinctively. Remba burst into tears when the Germans asked who that man was. A wail went up from those still left in the square. Korczak walked, head held high, holding a child by each hand, his eyes staring straight ahead with his characteristic gaze, as if seeing something far away. (pp. 344-5).

  • The ambiguity of the "happy ending" - reflection of new hope after fall of communism in 1989? spirit of Korczak would live on after his death? Popular Polish myth - Lifton notes that:

For some time after the war it was rumoured that the cattle cars that took Korczak's orphans to Treblinka had been derailed and that he and Stefa and the children were saved. People claim to have seen them in small villages throughout Poland. (p. 351).