Dr. Korczak Terrace in Skokie

Although this post is not about a specific museum or library, it is about how I used a museum and library to gain more insight into the history of a street name.

Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago, used to have one of the largest Holocaust survivor populations per capita: approximately 7,000 people in a population of 69,000.  Although their numbers are dwindling today, due to old age, Skokie’s Holocaust survivors have left some visible landmarks in their town that will keep their memory alive after they are gone.  First and foremost is the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which I have already written about in the past.  Second, is the Holocaust memorial on the Skokie Village Green, in front of the Skokie Public Library.  The need for a Holocaust memorial was clearly evident afterwards, when the night following its dedication in 1987, vandalizers spray-painted the monument with antisemitic graffiti.  Finally, a lesser-known Skokie memorial to the Holocaust is the Dr. Korczak Terrace and memorial.

This is the Holocaust memorial on the Skokie Village Green in front of the Skokie Public Library.

A small street in Skokie that takes up only a block is called Dr. Korczak Terrace.  On the corner of it is a memorial plaque with the following inscription:

Dedicated June 28, 1970.  This street is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Janusz Korczak – Henry Goldsmith.  A great Jewish educator and humanitarian who died as a hero and martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto during the period of the Nazi Holocaust.  Erected by the Dr. Janusz Korczak Lodge No. 2719 B’nai B’rith.

Janusz Korczak was the penname of Henry Goldszmit, a doctor who became the head of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw in 1911.  Eventually, he became famous for writing fantasy novels for children and instructional books for parents on how to raise their children.  He even had his own radio station in Warsaw, where he discussed how to raise children.  However, he is best known today for never abandoning his orphans, first after they were relocated to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, and then in 1942, when they were led to their death at Treblinka extermination camp.  Different stories exist about how different friends and admirers offered to help rescue Dr. Korczak from his fate.  However, he refused them all, because he could not part with his orphans.

Whenever I passed by the Dr. Korczak memorial in Skokie, it saddened me that its condition was deteriorating.  This was not surprising, considering that most of the people responsible for putting up the memorial were probably Holocaust survivors who are no longer living.  Because of this, I decided to try and investigate who was responsible for the memorial now.  The plaque mentioned how a B’nai B’rith group (a Jewish club) created the memorial, however, when I tried to Google the Dr. Janusz Korczak Lodge, I could not find any indication that it still exists today.

The pedestal clearly needed some repairs.

Next, I tried to contact the Skokie Heritage Museum, to see if they were responsible for the memorial, since it pertained to Skokie’s history.  Instead, they connected me with the Village of Skokie, which is its government.  The Village informed me that they did not have any information about the monument in their records, but since another person also complained about the monument’s poor condition, they were going to do something about it.  This all occurred in November of 2019, as winter weather approached Chicago.  Once warmer weather began to arrive in the spring of 2020, so did COVID-19.  Unfortunately, that caused more delays.  However, I am pleased to announce that now, exactly a year later, the Dr. Korczak monument has just finished being refurbished.

This photo was taken on September 26, 2020. The monument “disappeared” as it went to get repaired.
A new fence appeared. Photo taken on October 5, 2020.
The stone reappaeared. Photo taken on October 15, 2020.
The monument is now complete. Photo taken on November 15, 2020. The refurbished monument no longer includes a lamppost, because that was connected to a gas line, which would have been too pricey to repair.

Both the memorial plaque and a 1970 article that I found from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency mention that the dedication of Dr. Korczak Terrace took place on June 28, 1970.  Because of this, I assumed that both the street and the monument were dedicated at the same time.  However, after I contacted the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to see if they had any information about the Dr. Korczak memorial, I changed my mind.

From the Illinois Holocaust museum, I learned that its archives contain a pamphlet with the following title: “Dr. Janusz Korczak Lodge B’nai B’rith Dedication of Dr. Janusz Korczak Memorial – Skokie, Illinois – June 11, 1972.”  I then contacted the Skokie Public Library, to see if any Skokie newspapers contained articles about the memorial.  Sure enough, a Skokie newspaper called The News had a June 6, 1972 article about the Janusz Korczak Lodge dedicating a Dr. Korczak monument in Skokie.  Based on these finds, I believe that the street was named after Dr. Korczak in 1970, but the monument was not added to the location until 1972.

My investigations of Dr. Korczak Terrace also taught me a few more things.  First of all, the memorial has an 1880 inscribed on its left and a 1942 on its right, implying that Dr. Korczak lived from 1880 to 1942.  However, the 1972 dedication pamphlet at the Illinois Holocaust Museum says that he was born in 1879.  After further investigation, I learned that Dr. Korczak’s father did not issue his birth certificate right away, so Dr. Korczak was not sure if he was born in 1878 or 1879.  Perhaps, because of this, the people creating the Skokie memorial decided to round his birth date to 1880 for simplicity’s sake.

The Dr. Korczak memorial has an 1880 on the left and 1942 on the right, indicating the dates of Dr. Korczak’s birth and death.

Finally, through the Skokie Holocaust Museum, I learned that a Holocaust survivor named Ben Stern was president of the Janusz Korczak Lodge during the creation of Dr. Korczak Terrace.  According to information from the museum, Stern survived the Warsaw Ghetto and witnessed Dr. Korczak and his orphans make their way through the Ghetto to the train heading to Treblinka.  That could explain one reason why the Janusz Korczak Lodge specifically chose to honor Dr. Korczak under Stern’s presidency.

On a side note, I believe that Mr. Stern is still living at the time that I am writing this post, because I found an article about how a Jewish community center in California was going to show a documentary about him in May of 2020, and then have him virtually participate with them afterwards.  Interestingly enough, Stern also recently had a Jewish studies graduate student as a roommate, who happened to also be the granddaughter of Nazis!

The Janusz Korczak Lodge did not finish memorializing Dr. Korczak in 1972.  In 1974, it renamed Claremont Park in Chicago after Dr. Korczak.  Dr. Janusz Korczak Park is located at 6156 N. Claremont Ave. in Chicago.

Sources and Further Reading
“About Us.” B’nai B’rith International. https://www.bnaibrith.org/about-us.html (accessed November 18, 2020).

Birnbaum, Susan. “Skokie, ILL, Holocaust Memorial Vandalized Early Morning.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency 65, no. 104 (June 3, 1987). https://www.jta.org/1987/06/03/archive/skokie-ill-holocaust-memorial-vandalized-early-monday-morning (accessed November 18, 2020).

Chernick, Ilanit. “Janusz Korczak Remembered 77 Years after His Murder in the Holocaust.” The Jerusalem Post. August 5, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/janusz-korczak-remembered-77-years-after-his-murder-in-the-holocaust-597733 (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Dedicate Monument for Dr. Korczak.” The News. June 8, 1972.

“Holocaust Survivor Ben Stern May 14 at Virtual Event.” Roseville Today. May 11, 2020. https://www.rosevilletoday.com/news/roseville/holocaust-survivor-ben-stern-may-14-at-virtual-event/ (accessed November 18, 2020).

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. https://www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/ (accessed November 18, 2020).

Itkowitz, Colby. “This 95-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Has a Roommate – She’s a 31-Year-Old Granddaughter of Nazis.” The Washington Post. March 2, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/03/02/this-95-year-old-holocaust-survivor-has-a-roommate-shes-a-31-year-old-granddaughter-of-nazis/ (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Janusz Korczak.” Polskie Stowarzyszenie im. Janusza Korczaka. https://www.pskorczak.org.pl/strony/janusz_korczak_biografia.htm (accessed November 18, 2020).

Janusz Korczak Lodge of B’nai B’rith. Dr. Janusz Korcak Lodge B’nai B’rith Dedication of Dr. Janusz Korczak Memorial. Skokie, 1972.

Korczak. Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Poland: Zespol Filmowy “Perspektywa,” 1990.

Korczak, Janusz. Ghetto Diary. New York: Holocaust Library, 1978.

Korczak, Janusz. Kaytek the Wizard. New York: Penlight, 2012.

“Korczak (Janusz) Park.” Chicago Park District. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/korczak-janusz-park (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Skokie’s Holocaust Memorial Monument.” Sheerit Hapleitah. http://sheerithapleitah.com/sample-page/135-2/ (accessed November 18, 2020).

“Street in Skokie Named for Dr. Janusz Korczak, A Jewish Polish Martyr Killed by Nazis.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency 37, no. 118 (June 22, 1970). https://www.jta.org/1970/06/22/archive/street-in-skokie-named-for-dr-janusz-korczak-a-jewish-polish-martyr-killed-by-nazis (accessed November 18, 2020).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Janusz Korczak.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/janusz-korczak-1 (accessed November 18, 2020).

Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Since April is Genocide Awareness month, and since today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, I thought that I would discuss it.  Although you cannot currently visit a museum about the Armenian Genocide, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps there is a monument commemorating the Genocide near you.

April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, because on that day in 1915, the Ottoman Empire’s government began to arrest Armenian intellectuals, and thus officially begin the Genocide.  The causes of the Genocide were complex, and included political, national, and religious motivations.  It occurred during WWI, so the Armenians were accused of siding with the Ottoman Empire’s enemies, the Russians.  Additionally, nationalism was on the rise during that time, and the Turks and Armenians had a separate ethnicity and language.  Finally, the Ottoman Empire was primarily Muslim, while Armenians were/are Christian.  Although the numbers are contested, approximately 1.5 million Armenians died between 1914 to 1923.

I found this sign about the Armenian Genocide in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Cathedral of St. James.

After the Genocide, Armenians found themselves scattered throughout the world.  Therefore, monuments commemorating the tragedy have been erected throughout the globe.  Armenia’s capital of Yerevan has a museum dedicated to the Genocide called the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute.  The only memorial I have seen dedicated to the Armenian Genocide is one that was erected in 2015 at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, Illinois (suburban Chicago), for the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, IL.

Like most genocides, the Armenian Genocide began slowly, with the elite taken away first.  Eventually, the women, children, and elderly were rounded up and sent to the desert (although young women often had a worse fate).  Along the way, many perished, including my great-great-grandmother.  However, she was not Armenian.  She was Assyrian.  Although these numbers are also contested, at least 200,000 Assyrians and 500,000 Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire perished during the Genocide.  These smaller Christian populations found themselves in the same situation as the Armenians.  According to 1914-1918 Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire’s Christian population dropped from 20% to 2% because of the Genocide.

This is one of several monuments to the Assyrian Genocide (a subset of the Armenian Genocide) found at Montrose Cemetery in Chicago. Although Turkey hardly has any Assyrians now, most Assyrians trace their families back to Turkey, and most had family who died because of the Genocide.

Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who coined the word “genocide” and started the Genocide Convention of the U.N., was originally inspired to do his work because of the Armenian Genocide.  However, even during his time, people did not know much about the Armenian Genocide.  His contemporary, Adolf Hitler, said the following a few weeks before invading Poland and starting WWII in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The Armenian Genocide still continues to remain under the radar.  Ever since the 1930s, Hollywood has attempted to make a film based on The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a 1933 novel about the Armenian Genocide by a Jewish man who himself had to flee Nazi Germany.  However, whenever Hollywood began any attempts, Turkey placed pressure against it.  Hollywood did not make a film about the Armenian Genocide until over 100 years later, with 2016’s film The Promise.  Before the film was even released, it received negative ratings on IMDB, proving that many people were angry about its release.  Interestingly enough, around the same time that The Promise was released, Turkish and U.S. producers released a film about the Ottoman Empire during WWI called The Ottoman Lieutenant.  Some accuse it of being a reactionary film against The Promise, since it portrays Turkey’s stance on the Armenian Genocide, meaning that it downplayed what happened and denied that it was systematically planned.  Turkey continues to deny the Armenian Genocide. The United States only recently officially recognized it, on December 12, 2019.

This text is from the credits of the 2016 film The Promise.

April is Genocide Awareness month not only because the Armenian Genocide began then, but because the Cambodian Genocide began in April of 1975, and the Rwandan Genocide began in April of 1994. Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, often falls in April too. Below are posts that I wrote about several museums that commemorate genocides.

The National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Sources and Further Reading

The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation. http://www.genocide-museum.am/eng/index.php (accessed April 24, 2020).

Bagdasarian, Adam. Forgotten Fire. London: DK Publishing, 2000.

Booker, Brakkton. “Senate Passes Armenia Genocide Measure, Ignoring White House Objections.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/12/12/787582258/senate-passes-armenia-genocide-measure-ignoring-white-house-objections (accessed April 24, 2020).

“Genocide Awareness.” Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. https://hhrecny.org/genocide-awareness/ (accessed April 24, 2020).

Grandma’s Tattoos. Directed by Suzanne Khardalian. Sweden: HB PeA Holmquist Film, 2011.

“Hitler and the Armenian Genocide.” The Genocide Education Project. https://genocideeducation.org/background/hitler-and-the-armenian-genocide/ (accessed April 24, 2020).

Kherdian, David. The Road from Home. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1995.

The Ottoman Lieutenant. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Newport Beach, CA: Eastern Sunrise Films, 2017.

The Promise. Directed by Terry George. New York: Film Nation Entertainment, 2016.

Ritman, Alex and Mia Galuppo. “’The Promise’ vs. ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’: Two Movies Battle Over the Armenian Genocide.” The Hollywood Reporter. April 21, 2017. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/promise-ottoman-lieutenant-two-movies-battle-armenian-genocide-996196 (accessed April 24, 2020).

Seidenberg, Bob. “St. James Armenian Church Dedicates ‘Khachkar’ to Victims of 1915 Massacre.” Chicago Tribune. November 4, 2015. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-evr-armenian-cross-tl-1029-20151104-story.html (accessed April 24, 2020).

Suny, Ronald Grigor. “Armenian Genocide.” 1915-1918: International Encyclopedia of the First World War. May 26, 2015. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/armenian_genocide (accessed April 24, 2020).

They Shall Not Perish: The Story of Near East Relief. Directed by George Billard. Eldred, NY: Acorne Productions, 2016.

Werfel, Franz. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Translated by Geoffrey Dunlop. Jaffrey, NH: Verba Mundi, 2012.

Yacoub, Joseph. Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide, A History. Oxford University Press, 2016.