Isaiah 56:5 (New International Version, ©2011)
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
On a Jerusalem winter Friday morning that was bathed in warmth and sunshine, our group of pilgrims visited Yad Vashem the Holocaust museum.
Yad Vashem means "a place and a name" or "a monument and a memorial": Preserving the Past to Ensure the Future.
I, who grew up in the shadow of a war fought and ended five years before my birth and who has lived haunted by what I know of my parents' experiences during it, wanted to see the museum, but I was unprepared for the deep emotional impact it would have.
We left the bright sunshine of the present behind and entered a dark cavernous space with memorial candles reflected infinitely through mirrors, and representing the one and a half million children who died in the Holocaust.
The children's names, countries and ages are read out in an endless list; so many that it takes many years before a name is repeated.
Holding a handrail we filed through in the dark; the silence broken only by the names of children. The simplicity of this packs an emotional punch.
My tears began at the smiling face of the child, so incongruous; and fell steadily as I slowly walked through the memorial. I groped in my pocket for a tissue and the one that I found was sodden with tears by the time I came to the end. I have six grandchildren, whose ages span 8 years, and as children of their ages were named, my heart broke; over and over it broke.
And I learned of a hero I hadn't known of: Janusz Korczak; a Polish born Jewish doctor, whose ideas and writings were radical at the time in terms of how children should be treated.
He chose to devote his life to the care of the many orphaned children that wandered the streets and created a place of love and security for them in his orphanage.
The time came on August 5, 1942, for the 192 children in his care, to be taken by the Nazi's to what he knew was their death. He was offered personal exemption, maybe because of his celebrity as a writer, or maybe someone had paid a bribe for his freedom. But he refused to leave, saying, "You do not abandon children in the moment of their greatest need."
And he dressed them in their Sunday best and went with them.
Eyewitness Joshua Perle described the scene:
A miracle occurred. Two hundred children did not cry. Two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak, so that he might protect and preserve them. On all sides the children were surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians, and this time also Jewish policemen. They whipped and fired shots at them. The very stones of the street wept at the sight of the procession.
Wikipedia also has information on Janusz Korczak:
Korczak's evacuation from the Ghetto is also mentioned in Władysław Szpilman's book The Pianist:
One day, around 5th August, 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 could not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them. He told the orphans they were going out in to 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 Zyklon 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."
Some time after, there were rumors that the trains had been diverted and that Korczak and the children had survived. There was, however, no basis to these stories. Most likely, Korczak, along with Wilczyńska and most of the children, was killed in a gas chamber upon their arrival at Treblinka. There is a cenotaph for him at the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.
The visit to the Holocaust museum was deeply moving too, with a series of audio visual presentations documenting the rise of Nazism and the rise over two decades, of Anti-Semitism. We must never forget that such insanity is possible and be prepared to speak out against it when and if we hear it raised again..
Video about Christians and the holocaust