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Holocaust Memorial Day 2021, and Early Childhood Education

Today, 27th January 2021, marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is a day to remember and to reflect. We think of those who suffered through that terrible time, and we learn from the stories those people have shared over the years.

Even in the dark context of that time, there are stories of educators, families and communities who we can learn from to inspire our practice in Early Childhood Education. These examples include a defiant pursuit of children’s rights; a commitment at all costs for the children in people’s care; and reflecting on and implementing important values and principles in our work, even when wider society is at odds with this.

This statue is found in Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Israel. It portrays Janusz Korczak. Korczak was a Polish Jewish educator and writer, and he lived from 1878-1942.

Another statue (below) is in Warsaw, Poland, and shows Janusz Korczak going to the death camp, Treblinka, alongside the children he cared for in an orphanage he set up. The orphanage was in the Jewish Ghetto established by the Nazis in the Second World War.

Although Korczak had been offered his own freedom, he declined this in order to stay with the children he loved and cared for. He was killed, alongside 200 children from the orphanage and the deputy of the orphanage Stefania Wilczynska, in August 1942.

In their book, Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience (2014, p3), Cathy Nutbrown and Peter Clough explain:

“There is no better tribute to those who have gone before than to remould, revisit and revise their ideas for a new today”

Throughout his life, Korczak fought for children’s rights. He carefully reflected on and tried to improve his own practice, and his educational principles have shaped other settings since his life. He felt children should be listened to, respected and understood as individuals.

As Korczak said in his own words:

“Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be- The unknown person inside each of them is the hope for the future”.

Janusz Korczak

You can find more information about Korczak on the Yad Vashem website:


Statue in Yad Vashem: Image by Izabela Rutkowska from Pixabay

Statue in Warsaw, Poland: Image by Barak Broitman from Pixabay

Photograph of Korczak: source Władysław Bartoszewski, “Warszawski pierścień śmierci 1939-1944”, Interpress, Warszawa 1970.

Nutbrown, C & Clough, P. (2014) Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience. Second Edition. SAGE Publications LTD, London.

Other sources I’ve found helpful as research for this post:

Efrat Efron, S. (2008). Moral education between hope and hopelessness: The legacy of Janusz Korczak. Curriculum Inquiry, 38(1), 39-62.

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