The orphan’s tale
THE POIGNANT story of a small dapper man of 84 has been captivating Jewish and non-Jewish children at the Jewish Museum in Camden, North London, this week.
In 1930, six-year-old Itzchak Belfer was placed in a Warsaw orphanage run by Jewish paediatrician Janusz Korczak. He remained there until 1938. Dr Korczak and the children went into the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazis invaded and, despite opportunities to escape, he accompanied some 200 to Treblinka concentration camp, where they were all murdered in 1942.
As part of its HMD contribution, the museum is running an exhibition, Champion Of The Child, about Dr Korczak’s life.
“My father died when I was four and my family was very poor,” Mr Belfer told the JC. “I was one of five children and we all lived in one room. My mother took me to the orphanage and I stayed. But this was not like the sort of orphanage people imagine. Dr Korczak was a wonderful man and everyone had only happy memories. The children did every job except cooking and laundry but we were happy to do so. We had a far better life than many others.” As an example, he recalled that when he said he wanted to paint, “I was given a room that was my own studio”.
Mr Belfer and a fellow orphan escaped from Poland in 1940. They walked to Russia, where he worked in a coalmine for a year before joining the Russian army. He tried to reach Palestine in 1946 but was sent to Cyprus, where he remained until 1949, when he settled in Israel.
Yitzchak Belfer with one of his paintings at the Jewish Museum