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.
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.
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 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.)
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).
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).