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).

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

In 2009, the third largest Holocaust museum in the world opened up in Skokie, Illinois.  The two largest museums are Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., respectively.  Why Skokie, you might ask?  Skokie used to have one of the largest Holocaust survivor populations in the world.  Whereas some Chicago suburbs restricted whether or not Jews could live in their neighborhoods, Skokie welcomed Jews.

Although the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center (ILHMEC) in Skokie opened up ten years ago, a smaller version of this museum existed since the late 1970s.  In 1977 and 1978, a group of neo-Nazis attempted to march in Skokie in order to antagonize the Jewish community there.  However, the issue went to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Ironically, both the lawyer defending Skokie’s Holocaust survivors and the lawyer defending the neo-Nazis’ freedom of speech were Jews.  Even stranger was the discovery made about Frank Collin, the head of the neo-Nazi group in the Midwest, who was trying to march in Skokie in the first place.  Collin’s father was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who had been imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

The neo-Nazis eventually won the Supreme Court case, and were granted permission to march in Skokie.  However, they ended up changing their minds and marched in Chicago instead.  As a result, the Skokie Holocaust survivors started a small museum in a storefront building (which is now the Kaleemullah Masjid mosque), in order to educate people about the Holocaust.  This museum ultimately evolved into Skokie’s current Holocaust museum, which primarily contains the testimonies and artifacts of local survivors.  The attempted neo-Nazi march also inspired Skokie’s Holocaust survivors to work on having an Illinois law pass, which now requires that schools teach their students about the Holocaust.  This law eventually evolved into a broader requirement in which schools must teach about other genocides as well.

In order to fulfill the Illinois law, many schools bring their students on field trips to the ILHMEC.  While I was interning at the Museum in 2013, at least forty local Holocaust survivors alternated speaking to these students each day.  Although the number of remaining survivors continues to decline, there are still survivors who speak two weekends a month at the Museum to the general public.  You can learn the speaking schedule on the Museum’s Events page: https://www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/pages/programs/events/  In preparation for when there will no longer be Holocaust survivors with us, the ILHMEC has partnered with the Shoah Foundation (Steven Spielberg’s project that recorded the testimony of over 50,000 witnesses to the Holocaust) to create a hologram experience with a handful of survivors.  The Shoah Foundation intensely interviewed these survivors so that you can now listen to a hologram of these survivors and ask them questions afterwards.  Although it is not the same as talking with a real person, it will be a decent substitute in the future.

In addition to an authentic German train car, like the ones used to deport Jews to concentration camps, and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s desk (read his book about forgiveness called The Sunflower), the Museum contains many other interesting objects as well.  The silver Judaica objects near the exit to the Museum were confiscated from Jewish homes by the Nazis, and eventually found by U.S. troops in German warehouses after the War (vividly depicted in the 2014 film The Monuments Men).  An organization called the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. (JCR for short) formed soon after the War with the mission of finding the original owners of these objects.  Since most of the owners had perished, these items were ultimately donated to different Jewish organizations throughout the world.  The silver objects at the ILHMEC are on long-term loan from the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, which received these objects from the JCR back in the 1950s.  Because they were kept in storage for so long, they arrived at the Museum tarnished and dark in 2013.  As an intern at the Museum, I had the privilege of polishing these special items.

Sources and Further Reading

“History.” Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. https://www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/pages/about/history/ (accessed September 26, 2019).

“Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. (JCR).” Jewish Virtual Library. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-cultural-reconstruction-inc-jcr (accessed September 26, 2019).

Surviving Skokie. Directed by Eli Adler and Blair Gershkow. Clean Slate Productions, 2015. DVD.

Wiesenthal, Simon. The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. 2nd ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.