The present study is a comparative analysis of two Jewish educators, well known figures before the Second World War, who responded in opposite ways to the same historical reality of oppression by choosing different avenues of resistance. The first figure is the world-renowned educator, paediatrician and children’s book writer Janusz Korczak. The second is the Bible teacher, Hebrew and Yiddish poet, Yitzhak Katzenelson. This comparison touches the very essence of an educator’s identity; it forces us to ask ourselves how we view educators. Do we see them as civil servants who obediently transfer the commonly accepted knowledge of their society to future generations or do we expect them to resist evil and lead their society to a better reality?
Korczak, the universal educationist, headed his orphanage in the dying Warsaw ghetto for almost two years as an island of love. On August 1942 the entire orphanage was sent to Treblinka. Korczak’s diary opens a rare window to his Sisyphean struggle as an educator who faced radical evil. Katzenelson, a leading Hebrew educator in Lodz, escaped the Germans to Warsaw. After months of silence he was “adopted” by the “Dror” Zionist movement and became part of its underground gymnasia. His writings expressed the agony of the ghetto population – they were a source of consolation and a call for resistance, uprising and revenge. In April 1944 Katzenelson was sent to Auschwitz. Korczak, the universal philosopher, and Katzenelson, the national poet, shared the same historical reality but reacted to it in different ways. The act of studying their opposing responses may help us to explore models of educational leadership in times of crisis.