In the annals of Holocaust lore, the name of Janusz Korczak, glorified in Andrzej Wajda's KORCZAK, has become legend. A pediatrician, he was also a recognized author whose most inspired works were for children. He founded an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland, which was a model for such
institutions, since it was conducted as a true children's society, governed by the children themselves, and based on principles of justice, fraternity and equality.
When, in 1940, the Nazis create the Jewish ghetto (an area meant for 50,000 people, into which as many as 450,000 Jews were enclosed) Korczak (Wojtek Pszoniak) must transfer his orphanage to an old school building, totally inadequate for housing his 150 children. In 1941, when the ghetto
parameters are severely narrowed, he is forced to move again--this time with more than 200 children. No provisions are made for them except the barren structure. In order to provide them with food and heat the building, the good doctor goes out foraging and begging, gathering bits of wood from the
streets. "I have no dignity," he insists, "I have 200 children."
On August 6, 1942, the SS decrees that Korczak must gather together his brood and bring them to the transport trains, ready for shipment to the death chambers in Treblinka. He is told that he will be spared, that a visa to "freedom" is available to him, but he refuses. Instead, he gathers the
children and marches with them behind a star of David flag to the transport trains.
Memorable, moving and thought-provoking, KORCZAK is the first film in five years to be directed by Andrzej Wajda, who is now a senator of the new Polish People's Republic. It was written by his frequent collaborator, Agnieszka Holland (BITTER HARVEST, EUROPA, EUROPA), and shot in masterful black
and white by Dutch cinematographer Robby Muller (DOWN BY LAW, PARIS, TEXAS). Pszoniak is superb in his portrayal of Korczak. Equally outstanding is Ewa Dalkowska who plays his devoted associate Stefania.
The actual Warsaw ghetto is gone now, replaced by a modern housing project. When a Jewish survivor returned in 1946, he found that in the "wasteland of battered bricks and twisted iron bars, only the sky had remained unchanged." To recreate the ghetto for his film, Wajda built walls across two
streets in Praga, a miserable slum in Poland. The ominous atmosphere of the ghetto is translated to film quite miraculously by its director and cinematographer, so that the viewer is able to experience, if vicariously, the degradation of all human values. Wajda has also included some original SS
archival footage of the ghetto shot by Nazi newsreel cameramen.
The film earned a hostile reaction at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival from various Jewish and Israeli groups who were offended, among other things, by the portrayal of Jewish black marketeers during the war. Nevertheless, KORCZAK is a tribute to a martyr with a literally saintlike soul, and we come
away from the film filled with awe for Korczak's humanity and selflessness. (Violence, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: In the annals of Holocaust lore, the name of Janusz Korczak, glorified in Andrzej Wajda's KORCZAK, has become legend. A pediatrician, he was also a recognized author whose most inspired works were for children. He founded an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland, wh… (more)