* Lew’s comments on “The King of Children” by Betty Jean Lifton
Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 25, 2015
There are many tears to be shed for the way Janusz Korczak died, marching at the head of his final group of orphans off to a German death camp, but one cannot fail to be thrilled by the way he lived. For 30 years, he ran an orphanage in Warsaw, out of love for the children he was able to care for and as a means to study what worked and what didn’t in the interaction with children. His ideas – a court system run by the children, a newspaper written and largely managed by the children – are astonishingly on target, even today.
Betty Lifton did a superb job of capturing the emotion and the quality of Korczak’s work.
I have already written one scene in my novel-in-progress where Anna Gorska (my main fictional Polish character) shares a pre-Hanukah play session at the orphanage, and I have now outlined another 3-4 scenes involving Korczak and the children that I think will help me communicate the great richness of the world of Polish Jewry, the memory of which has survived even the German attempt to eradicate it.
Here are some of my notes …
… children’s court … not an instant success … children did not want to tattle … finally got going … counselors as prosecutor and defense attorney; three children as judges .. any child could bring a suit against another child … Korczak learning as he watched
… using the orphanage as a laboratory, Korczak wanted to work out an educational diagnostic system … children to run their own parliament, court and newspaper … a moral education based on respect for others as a prelude to self-respect
… Korczak launched an orphanage newspaper … each Saturday, he would read aloud his special column of the week … “do you remember, when you first came here, you didn’t have any friends, and you felt sad and lonely”