[Review] The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse/HarperCollins Publisher. June 7, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Harper Muse and NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction and Holocaust stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book at Christian Book.

Link at Amazon.

To read more information about The Teacher of Warsaw at Harper Muse. At this link is an author bio and an excerpt.

Further links to read about Janusz Korczak.

  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  2. Holocaust Matters.
  3. YadVashem.org
  4. Jewish Virtual Library.
  5. This is a link to read an account from a person who knew Janusz Korczak. It is twenty pages in length write-up.
His birth name was Henryk Goldszmit. In 1899, he changed his name to Janusz Korczak. He was born 1878 and died 1942.

Summary:

Janusz Korczak was a pediatric physician, pioneer of social work with children, teacher, writer, civic leader, radio speaker, war veteran, and director of the orphanage in Warsaw, Poland named, Dom Sierot from 1911 to 1942. Later he took charge of another orphanage in Warsaw.

The Teacher of Warsaw starts at the time when the Germans invaded Poland, September 1, 1939. The story stops in the late summer of 1942 when the Warsaw ghetto had mass deportations of Jews to Treblinka.

Janusz Korczak had a staff of courageous people who dedicated their lives to the welfare of the children. Janusz took care of the children’s basic needs, but he also took care of their educational needs. He strived to teach them how to become healthy functioning and productive citizens. The children had chores, they had a newspaper, and they held a court of their peers.

Stefania “Stefa” Wilczynska was Janusz partner in the orphanage. She was the Deputy Director and House Mother.

The Teacher of Warsaw shares life inside the orphanage among the children and teachers, it shares Janusz story, and it shares the worsening conditions for the Jews that eventually lead to the emptying of the Warsaw ghetto.

My Thoughts:

The first line of the story made an impression on me: “I have heard that when you say the names of the dead, you bring them back to life again.” It is words and phrases like this that held me and impacted me throughout the book.

Several reasons why I love this book-and-why it is so memorable!

1. I believe The Teacher of Warsaw captures the main character, Janusz Korczak. I read the above links for further information about him. The twenty-page memoir written by a person who knew Janusz gave me a solid grasp of his personality. He was socially conscious, especially of children when he was only a young boy. Further personality traits: emotional but in control, intelligent, intellectual, a brilliant and quick mind, astute judge of character, compassionate, dedicated, a communicator, defiant, brave, committed, willing to do labor, and a deep thinker.

2. In The Teacher of Warsaw, I am able to know Janusz’s thoughts because he is the narrator. He is an intellectual and philosophical person, and this came across as an important feature of the book. I’ve read some reviewers remark they don’t like the philosophical thoughts of Janusz. However, this is a strong part of the sharing of his personality and of bringing him to life in the story. It is also those philosophical words that create my favorite quotes in the book.

3. The story shares the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe during Janusz’s lifetime.

4. Janusz is not the norm for a male hero in a book. The book is also not the norm for a love story. I love this! I love Janusz as an older man with health problems. He is honest. Vulnerable and frail. He wrestles with the suffering that he witnesses. His great love is not a romantic interest. His great love is the children that he is willing to lay down his life for. For Janusz, there is no other choice but to remain with his children.

5. The story shares the fears, anxiety, worsening conditions, and panic in the ghetto. The Jews talk of what they hear about the extermination of Jews. Some don’t believe it. Others do believe it. There are several scenes in the book when I just cried. For example, the frozen dead child on the street. Janusz had seen this child begging and now he is dead. When Janusz finds him. He rocks him and recites Kaddish.

6. There are substories of the various secondary characters. For example, Irena Sendler.

Further Thoughts:

I have no idea if Janusz and Stefa were in a physically intimate relationship. I don’t know how they felt about one another in the romantic aspect. What is fact, is they both were very dedicated to the children. They complimented one another in their roles. Where one of them was weak, the other picked up the slack. They were true partners in their love for the children. This point is beautifully depicted.

Janusz was Jewish but not a practicing Jew. In The Teacher of Warsaw, Janusz knew some Bible verses. The verses are sprinkled in a couple of places in the book. But he does not state his belief in Jesus as the Son of God. I do not consider this book to be Christian historical fiction. I don’t believe it is a turn-off for a reader who does not want to read a Christian book.

Historical fiction is heavy with World War II/Holocaust stories. The focus on children in these stories is rarer because it usually features the lead role as a woman who falls in love. The Teacher of Warsaw stands proudly with a few other books featuring love and dedication to children. This is a big reason why this book is a gem!

One thought on “[Review] The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

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