NOTE: I was given early access to this manuscript through NetGalley in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you Harper Muse. Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Powerful, profoundly sad, and yet inspiring historical fiction, THE TEACHER OF WARSAW is based on the true story of Janusz Korczak, who headed up a Jewish orphanage in Poland on the eve of World War II, when the books begins. If you know anything about history, you know this is not going to go well. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.
60-year-old Janusz is a dedicated physician, a respected educator, and well-known in his Warsaw community. Though more agnostic than religious, he is unfailingly kind and open to all — friends, staff, and children. Above all, the care for his charges is based on love and seeing each child as an individual. Despite his own growing physical limitations, Janusz puts his wide circle of contacts to work to maintain a semblance of normalcy, for as long as possible. Always confident and encouraging, he puts the needs of those around him ahead of his own. Lessons must continue and he even uses his own storytelling ability to impart wise life lessons to his orphans. A man you have to love and a true hero who inspires.
Not surprisingly, the reason the book is so difficult to read (and I found I sometimes had to take breaks) is because I knew from page one how events would unfold, while Janusz does not. So, as readers, we wind up witnessing the Holocaust almost as if a participant. As some residents of the Warsaw Ghetto begin to consider fighting back, we know they will become part of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. As food becomes increasingly scarce, as disease spreads, as rumors about mass killings and concentration camps begin to circulate, characters in the book may be able to dismiss the information. We, as readers, can’t. I found myself braced throughout the book, continually asking just how bad are things going to get?
The book is sensitively and beautifully written by Mario Escobar and translated by Gretchen Abernathy. And I’ve read few books that have had a greater emotional impact than this one.
Yes, it reminded me of the unimaginable Nazi brutality and sadness that surround the Holocaust. But it also reminded me of the amazing optimism and resiliency of human beings and what a remarkable difference a single person can make to the lives of so many. Even in the midst of chaos.
More about Spanish author, Mario Escobar.