He Would Not Leave Them Alone

Janusz Korczak Monument, Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw. ©2018 Beth Ben-Avraham.

From Wladyslaw Szpilman’s The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45: 


One day, around 5 August [1942], when I had taken a brief rest from work and was walking down Gęsia Street, I happened to see Janusz Korczak and his orphans leaving the ghetto. 

The evacuation of the Jewish orphanage run by Janusz Korczak had been ordered for that morning. The children were to have been taken away alone. He had the chance to save himself, and it was only with difficulty that he persuaded the Germans to take him too. He had spent long years of his life with children, and now, on this last journey, he would not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them. He told the orphans they were going out into the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible, suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood.

The little column was led by an SS man who loved children, as Germans do, even those he was about to see on their way into the next world. He took a special liking to a boy of twelve, a violinist who had his instrument under his arm. The SS man told him to go to the head of the procession of children and play – and so they set off. 

When I met them in Gęsia Street the smiling children were singing in chorus, the little violinist was playing for them and Korczak was carrying two of the smallest infants, who were beaming too, and telling them some amusing story. 

I am sure that even in the gas chamber, as the Cyclon B gas was stifling childish throats and striking terror instead of hope into the orphans’ hearts, the Old Doctor must have whispered with one last effort, ‘It’s all right, children, it will be all right,’ so that at least he could spare his little charges the fear of passing from life to death.


—Wladyslaw Szpilman, The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45 (pp. 95-96). Orion. Kindle Edition.

3 thoughts on “He Would Not Leave Them Alone

  1. A moment of beauty in a time of horror. Heartbreaking but somehow uplifting.

    I have just started watching The Man in the High Castle on Amazon. The Europe of the second world war has always fascinated me, as it can from a distance both physical and chronological. Is it a little indulgent to wonder what I would have done faced with such circumstances? They say what we would have done is what we are doing now…and right now I am just keeping my head down, keeping my staff in jobs, keeping a roof over our head. I just hope no more is expected of me.
    I’m wondering, considering your area of study, are you familiar with the work of Jean Gebser?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.