In World War II Poland, a distinguished and visionary Jewish doctor lives and dies by his humanity.
In this fact-based story, Simon, a self-described “Jewish orphan, prisoner of the Warsaw Ghetto,” narrates the tragic tale of Janusz Korczak, who had established a progressive orphanage in Warsaw. When the staff (except for the gentiles) and children were sent to the walled-in ghetto in 1940, Korczak, like so many others, tried to reason with the occupying Germans but was briefly imprisoned. In 1942, during a roundup, he nobly accompanied the children to their deaths in Treblinka. In this translation from the Italian, Cohen-Janca gives Simon a sure voice that is observant and grounded in reality as he describes Korczak’s philosophy of empowering children while also depicting the despair and death in the ghetto: “The Germans don’t want Jewish children to grow up.” Quarello’s softly textured graphite drawings on sepia-colored paper sustain the dark, foreboding air of the story with their stark depictions of buildings and barbed wire. A double gatefold of the children on their final walk to the transport trains is set against an all-white background and is achingly moving. Holocaust stories can be most powerful when seen through the eyes of an individual, and Simon, though a fictional child, is an unforgettable witness.
Haunting and memorable. (afterword, further reading, resources) (Historical fiction. 11-15)