Janusz Korczak died on 7th August 1942 in Treblinka extermination camp, the District Court of Lublin has concluded. Establishing the date was necessary to determine how long Korczak’s works will remain protected by copyright laws.
If the court’s decision is validated, the period of copyright protection for Korczak’s works will expire and they will be eligible for public domain use. By law, copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death.
The court overruled the decision from 1954 which determined Janusz Korczak’s death to be 9th May 1946. This date – a year after the end of WW2 – was appointed by the courts as the date of death if it was impossible to determine the actual date of one’s death during the war. The Modern Poland Foundation's suggestion to establish Korczak’s date of death as August 1942 was taken into consideration by the court.
The judicial proceeding determined that Janusz Korczak was led out from an orphanage along with its wards on either 5th or 6th August 1942, then forced into a railway car and transported to the Nazi Treblinka death camp. The court decided that the most likely day of Korczak’s death is the following day, 7th August. Prisoners were directed to the gas chambers straight away, and there wasn’t a chance that Korczak managed to escape the fate of the thousands of people murdered in the camp.
The decision was also based on research related to Korczak’s life and death, documented after 1954, as well as on evidence regarding Korczak’s arrest and transport to the extermination camp. It was proven that Janusz Korczak’s death took place at a different time than the 1954 court determined, and dating his death to 9th May 1946 is “a distortion of historical reality”.
The proceedings regarding Korczak’s death began in 2012. Jarosław Lipszyc, the chairman of the Modern Poland Foundation, said he’s glad to see that the verdict is agreeable to the historical truth. In his opinion this case proved that “a small non-governmental organisation can elicit a major change”. Lipszyc also believes this lawsuit proves to other publishers that if copyright of a work belongs to the State Treasury, willingness to publish and share this work with society makes grounds for a judicial proceeding.
Lipszyc points out that whenever an author dies heirless, copyright is automatically transferred to the Treasury, but nobody registers which works are under its protection.
The Modern Poland Foundation runs an online library Wolne lektury / Free Readings, where it publishes works whose copyrights have expired. Lipszyc announced that whenever the court’s decision is validated, he will begin to publish and share Korczak’s works.
In 1954 the court ruled that there are no statutory inheritors of Korczak’s works, as all of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Therefore, the copyright laws were “inherited” by the Treasury. In 2010 the copyrights were donated to the Book Institute, a national cultural institution.
Source: PAP, edit. KK, transl. Agata Dudek, 30/03/15