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Another view on obesity in children

Korczak's books How to Love a Child and Little King Mat had a revolutionary impact on child rearing in the inter-war years.

30 August, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Dr Janusz Korczak

WHENEVER I come across obesity in children or that other blight, school exclusions, I think of a great man, Dr Janusz Korczak, a pioneer of child welfare.

Korczak? Who? I can imagine readers scratching their heads. Yes, he is sadly less known in this country than the US, other European counties and, of course, his home country – Poland. There his children’s books are loved, as well as his teachings as a paediatrician – his books How to Love a Child and Little King Mat, had a revolutionary impact on child rearing in the inter-war years.

He ran an orphanage in Warsaw – and today there is a Korczak museum in Poland. I wouldn’t have known about him if I had not seen a great film by the Polish director Andrzej Wajda about Korczak – and its last few fearful minutes conjure up visions that have stayed with me.

Here we see how Korczak – who was true to himself right to his death – had set up a home for children in the Warsaw Ghetto during the war and how when the Nazis marched them off to the death camps, the great man – regarded by them as their “father” – insisted on going with them though he could easily have been exempted.

Holding the hand of a child, marching, followed by 200 Jewish children, Korczak stays with them in the crowded cattle truck until the gas chambers. He was born in 1879 as Henryk Goldszmit but he adopted a pen name Janusz Jorczak and was always known as such to his death in 1942.

There have been books about him, TV documentaries, films and now a new fictionalised account of his last years has been written by Elizabeth Gifford, The Good Doctor of Warsaw, published paperback by Corvus. Elizabeth Gifford as a mother came easily to Korczak’s ideas about the best way to bring up children.

Had he lived he would have countered the endless stream of baby books of the 60s onwards – he didn’t advocate – as Elizabeth Gifford says in his book – a prescribed “best way” to raise children. He was more interested in relationships with children, and respecting them as individuals as “people”.

She has written a moving account of his last years – and will give a talk at the Weiner Library in Bloomsbury on September 20.

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