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Statue commemorates WW II hero

Sept. 27, 1996

By Sharon Mariotti

Lariat Reporter

World War II was a time of tragedy and a time of heroism.

Dr. Janusz Korczak was a hero who gave his life more than 50 years ago to save some Jewish orphans. On Thursday a statue of Korczak was dedicated to the University by Dr. Tom Hanks, professor of English, and his wife in celebration of human spirit.

Dr. Harvey Sparks, a Waco medical practitioner, was the coordinator of the art exhibit in Waco where the Hankses first saw the statue. At the dedication, Sparks spoke of the life of Korczak, a Polish pediatrician and children's author before and during World War II. Sparks said Korczak was a genuine hero and martyr, who wrote in his personal journal that he simply existed 'not to be loved and admired, but to love and serve.'

Korczak became the director of the Warsaw Jewish Orphanage, later named the Korczak Orphanage, in 1912. He was also offered the co-director position of an orphanage for non-Jewish Polish children. He served at both posts until 1939, when he was removed from the non-Jewish post because he was a Jew.

At this time the Jewish orphanage was moved into the Warsaw Ghetto and Sparks said Korczak chose to live there with the children.

'Korczak must have had superhuman strength and courage to carry on his work in a setting that so closely resembled hell,' Sparks said.

In 1942, he was ordered to send the orphans to their deaths in the Treblinka, Poland, extermination camp. He, however, would be permitted to remain in Warsaw. Sparks said Treblinka meant 'immediate extermination' for the doctor as well.

Hanks said Korczak was aware of his fate yet chose to accompany his orphans anyway.

'Korczak could not bear the thought of sending the innocent orphans to their deaths without accompanying them, so he joined them on the journey and died with them in Treblinka,' Hanks said.

Hillel Seidman was a bystander to Korczak's march with his orphans and later wrote about it.

'A long procession, children, small, . . . rather precocious, emaciated, weak, . . . some carried schoolbooks, notebooks under their arms. No one is crying. . . . Their eyes are turned towards the doctor. They are strangely calm; . . . The doctor is going with them, so what do they have to be afraid of? They are not alone; they are not abandoned,' Seidman wrote on Korczak's home page on the Internet.

Before Korczak went to Treblinka with the orphans, he arranged work for some of the older boys so they would not make the train that day. Mischa Wasserman Wroblewski was one of the boys sent to work that day.

When the boys arrived back at the camp, Korczak and the orphans were gone. Wroblewski's grandchildren said on the home page on the Internet that Korczak, by saving the older boys from deportation, saved their grandfather's life.

A rock garden in Treblinka serves as a memorial to the more than one million Jews who died there. The pile of 17,000 rocks simply holds the victims' home cities or countries because there is not enough space in the memorial to list all the victims' names. Hanks said on one of the rocks, though, there is the inscription, 'Janusz Korczak . . . and the children.'

'Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,' Hanks said, quoting John 15:13, adding that both the story and the statue made a profound impression on him.

'Carole [Hanks' wife] went to see an art exhibit at the Temple Agudath Jacob [in Waco], and then she took me,' Hanks said. 'I saw the statue of Korczak and it is no exaggeration to say that I was transfixed by the image.'

He said his wife noticed that he liked it so she bought it for him.

Hanks said that he wanted to display it for others to enjoy as well, so they first displayed it at Lakeshore Baptist Church in August 1995.

Hanks said he decided to donate the sculpture to the University because there are so many people forming their minds at the University.

'I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if it could be on display at Baylor,'' Hanks said.

'It's just too profound to keep in the house.'

The University gave the sculpture, which presents Korczak with his arms around a group of emaciated orphans, a trial run, displaying it on the garden level of Moody Memorial Library, and decided to keep it permanently, Hanks said.

The sculpture was presented Thursday to the University.

President Robert B. Sloan, Jr. welcomed the guests to the presentation at which he said the guests celebrated 'the courage and greatness of the human spirit' and the sculpture was 'a living stone.'

Sparks closed the event in a prayer and remarks of the sculpture being 'a monument of good will, whether Christian or Jew, to those who have taken the extra step for the betterment of mankind, to those who have, at their own peril, stood to make our world a better place to live.'

'It is significant that Baylor has chosen this extraordinary work of art on permanent display,' Sparks said.

Hanks said this sculpture was the artist's model for the larger-than-life-size sculpture which stands outside the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

The artist who sculpted the statue is contemporary Israeli sculptor Baruch Saktsier.

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