Hailed by Spielberg as "one of the most important European pictures about the Holocaust", in 1990 Andrzej Wajda directs Korczak, a biographical picture based on Janusz Korczak's The Ghetto Diary
An accomplished writer, author of over twenty books, for children, about medicine, hygiene, politics and interpersonal relationships, Janusz Korczak, the social activist and doctor is remembered for his struggle to 200 children living in his orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto. When in 1940 the House of Orphans was relocated to the ghetto, Korczak continued to fight for financial resources to pay for the maintenance of the children, and made sure that life in the orphanage ran according to its prewar rhythm. Refusing to accept help to escape the ghetto and abandon the children and workers of the House of Orphans, the last march taken up by Korczak and the children to Umschlagplatz has become a legend and continues to live its own life in a mythologised version.
Andrzej Wajda’s film is a study of the great Polish-Jewish pedagogue’s life and work from service in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war to death in Treblinka. A black and white production, the film contains scenes with archival footage of the Warsaw ghetto shot by German photographers. With a screenplay written by Agnieszka Holland, a musical score composed by Wojciech Kilar, and the lead role played by eminent Polish actor Wojtek Pszoniak, according to Wajda, the film "was a rare chance to illuminate the dark corners of the Polish-Jewish relationship". Wajda and Holland based the story of the film on the testimony of the great pedagogue, written during the time he spent in the Warsaw Ghetto. It is the last work by Janusz Korczak, written as he struggled for survival - his own as well as that of the children who lived with him in the Ghetto.
Released in 1990, the movie and especially its last scene became the object of controversy in France. As The New York Times Stephen Engelberg relates,
The film's concluding 30 seconds of fantasy have become the focal point of a bitter assault on the movie by French critics, Daniele Heymann in Le Monde attacked Mr. Wajda for showing Poles in what she contended was an overly favorable light. By contrast, Israeli critics praised the ending as a symbol of hope, several prominent Polish Jews came to Mr. Wajda's defense. Dr. Edelman, a cardiologist and Warsaw ghetto survivor, wrote a letter to Le Monde praising Mr. Wajda for his support of Solidarity and accusing French critics of "a new, anti-Polish chauvinism which is also a victory of Hitlerism.
2012 marks the Year of Janusz Korczak and commemorates two separate dates in Janusz Korczak's life, the 70th anniversary of his death at the Treblinka camp during WW II and the 100th anniversary of his founding the House of Orphans in Krochmalna street in Warsaw.
Korczak is being released in the United States on DVD and Blu-ray.
- Korczak, Poland / Germany 1990, Written by Agnieszka Holland, Directed by Andrzej Wajda, Cinematography by Robby Muller, Music by Wojciech Kilar, Production Design by Allan Starski, Produced by Kadr Film Studio, Cast: Wojciech Pszoniak (Janusz Korczak), Ewa Dalkowska (Stefa Wilczynska), Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska (Maria Falska), Marzena Trybala (Esterka), Piotr Kozlowski, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Aleksander Bardini.
Sources:culture.pl, Polish Institute New York, New York Times
Author: Marta Jazowska