Korczak: Kino Classics Remastered Edition
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Wojtech Pszoniak stars in Andrzej Wajda's biographical paean to renowned humanitarian Henryk Goldzmit, who wrote under the name Janusz Korczak. The film opens in the late 1930s with pediatrician, writer, teacher, and radio personality Korczak working as the administrator of an orphanage in the slums of Warsaw. When the Nazis invade Poland, move Korczak and his Jewish charges into the ghetto, and begin shipping cattle cars full of adult Jews to Treblinka, the doctor does everything in his power to try to protect the children from the uglier aspects of the ominous quarantine. Friends and well-wishers urge Korczak to leave the children to their fate and save himself, but the dedicated doctor adamantly refuses, demonstrating a dedication to the children that knows no bounds. Pszoniak is superb in this affecting portrait, which is austerely photographed in black and white by the gifted German cinematographer Robby Müller. Remastered in HD for Blu-ray and DVD. Polish with English subtitles
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At almost two hours long, this film (in black and white, and in Polish with English subtitles) attempts to portray Korczak and his experiences during the war. The film doesn't focus on his early years and when it begins, Korczak is being informed by the head of the radio station that he will no longer be permitted on-air due to the political circumstances in Poland at the time. Before long, Korczak and the residents of "Our Home", the orphanage he runs, are forced to relocate to the Warsaw Ghetto, established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank and overseen by the Nazis, alongside an internal Jewish-administration with their own Jewish police force (who were in effect nothing more than Nazi puppets).
The film depicts the brutality of life in the ghetto and of Korczak's valiant efforts to make life seem as normal as possible for his approx. 200 orphans (historically, there are differing accounts as to the exact number of orphans, but it is somewhere around this figure). Food was scarce during that period, and the film depicts Korczak's ingenious efforts to procure food for his charges. There are subplots focusing on a Jewish teen who is one of Korczak's orphans, and of his short-lived romance with a Polish Gentile girl who lives on the Aryan side of Warsaw. Then there's the fiesty young boy who is taken in by a sympathetic Korczak, due to the boy's dying mother's pleas. The scenes of the orphanage life in the ghetto seems surreal at times because it seems so normal despite the very abnormal and deplorable conditions elsewhere in the ghetto. Korczak tries his best to maintain normalcy among his charges, conducting physical check-ups and what not, and the children put on plays and hold their court meetings as per normal.
Darkness prevails however and as the deportations to the death camp Treblinka begin, Korczak realizes that it won't be long before his charges face a grim fate at the hands of the Nazis. Many sympathetic to Korczak attempt to rescue him, but the brave old man refuses to part from his children. A fact-based film of a courageous and loving man adhering to his life principles, "Korczak" makes for compelling viewing.
The remainder of this review contains spoilers.
In 1939, the Nazi occupation advanced using a multi-pronged strategy, including formation of the Jewish Ghetto Police. This select group had the illusion they would be spared the fate of others if they cooperated. The President of the Jewish Council (Judenrat) believed it was morally untenable for Jews to police themselves. He succumbed to the Nazi plot, however, reasoning it was the lesser of two evils.
By creating social inequity via a protected class, the Nazi's incited anger and division among the Jews while gaining manpower to assist in liquidation of the ghetto. As Jews were deceived into betraying one another they helped the Nazi's confiscate the property of their neighbors. The Resistance weakened and hundreds of thousands were sent to Treblinka.
As the population of Jews declined, the plight of orphaned children came to the attention of Goldzmit, a.k.a. Dr. Januscz Korczak. When his extremely popular radio program was suddenly discontinued by the Polish station owner, Korczak objected: "And who today represents human beings?"
Dr. Korczak believed the protection of the most vulnerable was fundamental to the sanctity of all life. By remaining steadfast, he foresaw the impact this decision would have, first on a powerless, voiceless class and eventually on all Polish citizens. Korczak gave his life protecting orphans.
The Ghetto Police continued to send other Jews to their deaths. Upon successful completion of the task, they were executed.
This black and white film is in Polish with English subtitles.
"In Germany they came first for the Communists,
And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
And I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
And by that time no one was left to speak up."
-- Martin Niemöller, Lutheran pastor