Pope Expresses Interest in Project to Honor Korczak

Pope John Paul II has assured the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Polish-American Catholic Committee of his “special interest and support” for their joint project to honor the martyred Polish-Jewish humanitarian, Janusz Korczak, it was announced by Maxwell E. Greeberg, the ADL’s national chairman.

Officials of the ADL, the Polish-American Congress, the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs and the North American Study Center for Polish Affairs met with the Pope to announce the establishment of an international Janusz Korczak Literary Prize for children’s books. A physician, educator and pioneer in child welfare Korezak, though offered refuge for himself in August, 1942, chose to perish in the Treblinka concentration camp with children from his orphanage, rather than abandon them.

Describing Korczak as a “rare human being,” the Pope told the 14-member group assembled in his private study that “he was a worthy symbol of the work of brotherhood you are undertaking.”

According to Nathan Perlmutter, ADL’s national director, the prize, an annual event, will be presented in two categories-the first for literary works written for children, and another prize for a book about children but written for adults. “We think this a fitting tribute to an extraordinary man who set up the first Jewish orphanage in his native Wanaw and was cofounder of a non-Jewish home for orphans,” Perlmutter said. “And all of us are gratified at the Pope’s enthusiasm for our project.”

The Pontiff praised the delegation for its selection of Korczak, who would have been 100 years old this year. “Korczak is an ideal symbol of morality and religion,” the Pope said. “And you have my admiration, devotion and my blessing in this important work.” Heading the joint delegation were Greenberg and Stanislaus Bask Mostwin of the Polish-American Catholic Committee.

According to Perlmutter, the first Janusz Korczak Prize will be awarded in November. “Selection of the winners will be made by a committee of scholars, editors and literary critics,” he said, “with Pope John Paul II invited to serve as Honorary Chairman.” Awards in the amount of $1,000 each will be made in one or more of the following categories of published works: The trade book written for children, best exemplifying the principles of selflessness and human dignity by which Dr. Korczak lived and died; the most exemplary book written about the welfare and nurturing of children directed to parents, teachers, physicians, counselors or other members of the helping professions. Books published anywhere in the world, Perlmutter said, will be eligible for the competition.

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