Lighting the Way for Others: Educators in the Warsaw and Vilna Ghettos

Chana Levene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The image of Janusz Korczak together with his or-
phaned charges—the ultimate symbol of an educator’s
defiant devotion in the face of the Nazi onslaught—
has been immortalized in countless pictures and films and
in works of art such as the impressive cenotaph in Warsaw’s
Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery and the sculpture by
Boris Saktsier, which stands in Janusz Korczak Square at Yad
Vashem [Fig. 1]. So powerful and inspirational is the legacy of
this man that, year after year, the anniversary of his August
1942 deportation to Treblinka, along with Stefa Wilczynska
and the children of their Warsaw Ghetto orphanage, is
commemorated. Yet, although many are familiar with the
image of Korczak marching with his orphans on their last
way, their knowledge of his tireless and defiant efforts and
self-sacrifice on behalf of the children remains scant.
Mira Bernstein and her efforts are even less known.
Most people are acquainted with her through Avraham
Sutzkever’s Yiddish poem “Di Lerern Mira” (“The Teacher
Mira”), written in the Vilna Ghetto on May 10, 1943, but
know few details of her life and have no idea what she looked
like. Mira entered the consciousness of Hebrew speakers
through the translations of Binyamin Tene and Shimshon
Meltzer; now, English speakers are being afforded a similar
opportunity through the relatively recent translations of
Barbara and Benjamin Harshav and Barnett Zumoff.
These two extraordinary persons, Korczak and Bern-
stein1, provide us with a glimpse of the daily heroic acts
performed by them and many other exceptional teachers
in their dedication to continue the education of the chil-
dren in the ghettos, even when such activity was subject
to severe punishment. The courage, love, and devotion
of these educators, their defiant refusal to surrender the desire
to live, and their stalwart resistance to the Nazis’ attempt to
dehumanize their victims deserve wider recognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-46
JournalPRISM; an Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators
Volume4
StatePublished - 2012

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