THE KING OF CHILDREN: A Biography of Janusz Korczak by Betty Jean Lifton

THE KING OF CHILDREN: A Biography of Janusz Korczak

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Having investigated the complexities of the lives of adoptees (Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, 1979, and Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter, 1975), and of children of the Orient (A Place Called Hiroshima, 1985; and Children of Vietnam), Lifton now turns her attention to a subject perfectly suited to her interests and talents. This moving biography of Janusz Korczak--a Polish Jew who, as doctor, author, and educator, espoused the rights of children during the early years of this century--is the first to appear in English. Born in 1878, Korczak was an enigmatic personality. Childlike, he seemed to be most comfortable in the company of children. He never married, and his relationships with adults, especially women, were more professional than personal in tone--though his associates revered him. He became a celebrity in pre-WW II Warsaw, appearing on radio reading his apparently (few are available in translation) charming children's stories, writing newspaper articles, and, most notably, operating an orphanage that was decades ahead of its time in allowing the children a voice in decision-making. It was this orphanage that led directly to the most moving (and the final) event in Korczak's life. On August 6, 1942, the Nazis began rounding up the Warsaw Jews. Included were some 200 orphans from Korczak's institution. Their destination: the death camp at Treblinka. Though he was offered an escape, the elderly Korczak refused to abandon his charges, and together they disappeared into the gas chambers. Lifton tells her story without undue emotionalism. She knows the facts themselves are dramatic and heartbreaking enough. An important and affecting addition, then, to the history of the Nazi horror--and of the struggle for the establishment of children's rights.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux