Janusz Korczak dedicated his life to children. Gloria Spielman's book, Janusz Korczak's Children, introduces young readers to this uniquely caring, giving and heroic doctor.
From the age of five, little Marcel knew he wanted to be a silent actor, just like Charlie Chaplin. World War II came, changing Marcel's life, but it didn't stop his dream of becoming a mime artist and entertaining the world.
Roman Wroblewski’s father Misha was a teacher in Korczak’s orphanage. When he began working at the orphanage, Misha was an engineering student. Misha was so impressed by Korczak that he gave up his engineering studies and began to study psychology and education instead. There were several other teachers working with Korczak in the ghetto orphanage but Misha Wroblewski was the only one to escape the August 5 deportation to Treblinka. His son Roman spoke to me by telephone from his home in Sweden.
How did your father avoid deportation?
Korczak had arranged for construction work outside the ghetto for my father and a few orphanage graduates. There were three boys: Monius Genadenhofer, Jankiel Bojme and a boy called Dawid whose surname my father could not recall. My father always called them ‘The Boys’ even though they were in their late teens and early twenties. Every morning the Nazis marched them out of the ghetto, and marched them back again every night. The work was physically very demanding but it allowed them to smuggle food into the orphanage. My father and The Boys received salaries which they all shared with Korczak to help him look after the children in the orphanage.
On the morning of August 5, 1942, my father and The Boys left for work as usual. When he arrived he found the orphanage empty. There was still unfinished tea and coffee on the table. My father went up to Korczak’s room. Korczak’s spectacles were still on his desk. My father gathered Korczak’s papers and threw them into a suitcase together with his spectacles..
The Nazis had split the ghetto into two areas, the "small ghetto", generally inhabited by richer Jews, and the "large ghetto", where conditions were more difficult; the two ghettos were linked by a single footbridge. In August 1942 the Nazis had been trying to liquidate the small ghetto and my father knew it would be too dangerous to remain there. He went with The Boys and the suitcase into the large ghetto. It was dangerous to remain in one apartment for too long so they moved from apartment to apartment, generally staying with graduates of Korczak’s orphanage. At some point they were unable to return to one of the apartments where he’d been staying and became separated from the suitcase with Korczak’s papers.
How did your father survive the rest of the war?
My father tried to persuade The Boys to try and escape but they refused. Eventually he decided to escape alone. On one of the work marches he removed his armband with the Star of David and managed to get away. He had been spotted by a Polish man who threatened that if he didn’t hand over all his money he would report my father to the Nazis. My father handed him all the money he had on him, which was all the money he had in the world. The man wished him good luck and my father got away.
Korczak remained with my father for the rest of his life. As a child I used to think he was my grandfather.
Misha Wroblewsi and children from the orphanage. Taken in front of the Krochmalna Orphanage.
Photo courtesy of Roman Wroblewski
Mischa Wroblewski father in front of the monument at Treblinka that shows Korczak’s last march from the orphanage to the Umschlagsplatz.
Photo courtesy of Roman Wroblewski