In a city that does not want for tragic, heroic stories, the tale of Janusz Korczak and the orphanage of which he became director in 1912 is one of those that warrants telling time and again.
Warsaw-born Korczak - whose real name was Henryk Goldszmit - was a pioneering Polish-Jewish children’s author, paediatrician and pedagogue of some renown, whose approach to raising orphans (he believed in offering children as much freedom and autonomy to express themselves as possible) was at odds with the prevailing attitude towards children in general at the time. The orphanage - which still stands today, at ul. Krochmalna 92 and which remains a children’s home - was specifically designed by Korczak himself to offer the children who would live there as comfortable an existence as possible. Korczak ran the orphanage as a model of democracy, with the orphans having their own parliament and even their own newspaper, and they were consulted on all major decisions. Korczak also took care to ensure the well-being of his former orphans once they were too old for the orphanage: he found many work in the businesses of his associates.
Having served as a military doctor in World War I, Korczak volunteered for the Polish army again at the outbreak of World War II, but was rejected due to his age. When the occupying Nazis created the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, he was forced to move his orphanage to a much smaller building at ul. Chlodna 33, and later still to ul. Sienna 16. A poignant sculpture of Korczak leading his children (one small child clings on his back) stands close by ul. Chlodna, at ul. Jaktorowska.