The idea of creating a platform from which to explore and popularize Janusz Korczak’s life and work in Canada was born in 1996, during preparations for an exhibition commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This event was organized by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland. The head organizer of the event was Alexander Dimant, and it was his personal story that drew others to the idea. As a teenager, Warsaw-born Alexander Dimant was taken to the Warsaw Ghetto along with his entire family. A few months before the liquidation of the Ghetto he escaped to the Aryan side and survived, never to see any member of his family again.
Dimant’s parents and siblings stayed behind the Wall, and it is very possible that they witnessed Dr. Korczak’s last journey. He walked at the head of 192 orphans to Umschlagplatz to board the cattle train to Treblinka – the German Nazi extermination camp. Since Korczak was very well known in the Warsaw Ghetto, the evacuation of his orphanage was witnessed and described by survivors.
After Aleksander Dimant’s untimely death in 1998, his wife Gina decided to continue his efforts. In November 1999 she organized a screening of Andrzej Wajda’s film “Korczak” at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, and the very successful and engaging evening. Many people asked if there might be a follow up to that event – if, in other words, there could be a platform from which to continue to pursue people’s interest in Janusz Korczak’s life and work.
In February 2002 this interest took shape in the form of The Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, with its home in Vancouver.
In its first big project, the Association assisted the Holocaust Education Centre in producing the traveling exhibit “Janusz Korczak and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto,” which opened on October 2002 with the lecture “A Child in the Warsaw Ghetto” by Lilian Boraks-Nemetz, a child survivor of Warsaw Ghetto and a member of the Board of our Association. Since then, the Association has organized many lectures and events on Korczak’s legacy.
In April 2003 a lecture and discussion on Korczak’s pedagogy were held at the Perez Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. The lecture was delivered by Olga Medvedeva-Nathoo. That same year, several programs about Korczak’s life and legacy featuring Olga Medvedeva-Nathoo were broadcasted on Co-op Radio and the
Multicultural Broadcast Station.
In May 2005 Olga Medvedeva-Nathoo delivered a lecture on “Janusz Korczak: Bridging the Nations” at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre that was followed by the address to the Korczak Friends by the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Canada, Piotr
In November 2005 the Association presented an international exhibition of children’s art “My World and I” at the Moat Gallery in Vancouver, where 100 children’s drawings and paintings from Canada, United Kingdom, Poland, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Japan were displayed. The exhibition was accompanied by a brochure showing many of the pictures in colour, produced by the Association.
In May 2006 Dr. Ludwik Mirabel delivered a talk “The Promise Land of Maly Przeglad” at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. Ludwik Mirabel, a medical doctor, belongs to an ever shrinking group of people who knew Janusz Korczak personally. Before World War II he was one of the young contributors to “Maly Przeglad,” a unique newspaper established by Korczak and written by children for children. During the same meeting Prof. Krzysztof Szafnicki gave the lecture
“Discovering Korczak in Canada.”
In August 2006 our Association, together with the Episode Group, hosted Irene Tomaszewski, a Quebec author, translator, and founder of the Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies in Montreal. She presented two of her books – “Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska, 1942-44” and “Zegota: The Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland 1942-45.”
In January 2007 the Association, together with the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland and the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre organized a concert by the famous Polish singer Slawa Przybylska. Ms. Przybylska is an artist who has made a tremendous contribution to the promotion of Polish-Jewish culture and is devoted to performing songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.
In March 2007 Olga Medvedeva-Nathoo delivered the lecture “Janusz Korczak: His Life and Legacy” to members of the Most-Bridge Society of Greater Vancouver. Gina Dimant presented a history of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada and its most recent activities at the same meeting.
In April 2007 the Association presented the Severin Szperling collection of Holocaust medals and coins – part of Szperling’s 300-item collection, that spans 30 years and 14 countries. The Janusz Korczak portion of the collection is represented by 29 medals and coins from Poland and Israel. At the opening of the exhibition Severin Szperling delivered an intriguing talk entitled
“I am a son of four parents.”
In April 2008 the Association presented Holocaust survivor Miriam Akavia, an author and person active in the international Korczak movement. She gave a lecture at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre about the founding of the State of Israel on its 60 anniversary.
In March 2009 the Association introduced Dr.Bozena Karwowska, a Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia with the lecture “The Body in Auchwitz: the Polish Writers’ Experience” at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
In its seven years of existence, the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada has prepared and introduced to the public five issues of its Newsletter.
The Association was also involved in gathering donations for the erection of the monument to Janusz Korczak that was unveiled in Warsaw in 2004.
Our Board of Directors consists of Gina Dimant, Lilian Boraks-Nemetz, Zofia Lewicka-Pezowicz, Iwona Haskins, Malgorzata Burczycka, Andrzej Wroblewski and Jerry Nussbaum.
Our organization now has more than one hundred members, many volunteers and supporters and is officially registered in British Columbia as a charity organization. Our members are representatives of different occupations, ages, social and ethnic backgrounds, and nationalities.
The Association is also active in charitable work supporting underprivileged and handicapped children. More than 70 parcels with clothes and toys have been sent to various places in Poland: the Janusz Korczak Education Centre for Children with Special Needs in Szerzawy/Mogilno in Poland, the Education Centre in Skierniewice, the Janusz Korczak Institute for the Support of Children in Ilawa, the Order of St.Catherine ‘s Sisters in Braniewo, and the day-care in Deblin. We also proudly support by donations the Big Brothers and Sisters, and the Childrens’ Hospice in Canucks Place.