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The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

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Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
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‘Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is the phenomenal, heart-breaking book from author Elisabeth Gifford. Published by Corvus, it is a book that left me completely bereft and stunned. The story of Sophia and Misha and the harrowing story of the inspirational Dr Janusz Korczak is a story that needs to be heard.

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

On finished The Good Doctor of Warsaw, I literally stopped everything I was doing. I have read many books in this genre, as it’s a period in our history that just fascinates me. This….this incredible book just blew me away.

Dr Janusz Korczak was born Henry Goldszmit in 1879 in Poland, the son of a wealthy Jewish lawyer and his wife. In later years, after studying medicine, he became a very popular paediatrician, but soon left medicine to work full time at a children’s orphanage. It was here that he met Stefa Wilczynska. Together they set about protecting the vulnerable children of Warsaw. This is their story…..

The Good Doctor of Warsaw takes the reader through the harrowing years of the occupation and destruction of Warsaw, a city brought to it’s knees by the Nazi regime, a city that has seen terrible injustices against it’s people.

‘The Jews will perish from hunger and poverty and only a graveyard will remain of the Jewish question.’ – Ludwig Fischer, Governor of the Warsaw District.

Elisabeth Gifford came upon the name Dr Janusz Korczak, while attending a teaching conference many years ago. His philosophy and teachings struck a chord with her and she decided to research his life story. Amazed at what she discovered, Elisabeth Gifford made a decision to share his story with the world by writing a book. As she went about her research she learnt about many folk who were part of the story but it the tale of Misha and Sophia that we get an insight into in the book.

Misha and Sophia were two young students who fell in love before their home became a place of unspeakable horror and death. Misha did some work for Dr Korczak and Sophia supported this work completely. The Good Doctor looked after over two hundred children and their care and protection was his mission in life. He was an advocate for giving children the right to an opinion and was a true believer that each child had their own unique personality. He was a well known figure in the city of Warsaw, very well respected for his work and for looking after the future of the city… these children were the future.

As the Nazi regime rolled it’s way into Poland, no one truly believed the rumours, no one believed the stories of the pure hatred against the Jewish community. The Polish population thrived in a society that celebrated it’s culture and music. Life was good…until the sounds of gun shots rang out and the rumours became a very stark reality.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is a powerful book. The depiction of the ghetto and it’s inhabitants is soul-destroying and the pure savagery of the Nazi guards is quite distressing.

‘Even the air is different here, a persistent smell made up of rotting rubbish, unwashed clothes and sewage. Along each side of the street, thin and listless people in shabby clothes stand by little piles of redundant-looking items…hoping for a sale.Two haggard children bundled in rags come swaying towards Sophia on stick legs, each holding out a hand and chanting as if in a dream. An emaciated teenager with a rope around his frayed coat is stretched out on the flagstones, his sunken face as grey as putty, his eyes closed. Is he alive?’

Sophia and Misha’s story is one of love and hope against the terrifying backdrop of a people and a city that was razed to the ground. Dr Korczak’s story is one of bravery and courage, a story that inspires and saddens, a story that will shock you to the core.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is not an easy read by any means. I was quite agitated when I finished it, unable to focus on anything. The attempted annihilation of a section of society by one man is very hard to fathom. The hatred in his heart, the anger, the pure malice toward the Jewish community is very difficult to process. As the Warsaw Ghetto was emptied and destroyed, tears rolled down my face. The pure fear among this helpless group of people who, with dignity, walked their last steps toward the trains to the death camps will stay with me forever. I cannot but think of all the shattered lives, the families destroyed by this madness, this evil.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is a book that strives to keep the memory of these brave, brave people alive in our thoughts and forever in our prayers.

I cannot recommend The Good Doctor of Warsaw enough. Please read it. You will not regret it.

Exceptional. Harrowing. Compelling. True.

A quote from the Postscript

‘He was spared from the gas chambers because he was picked out to play his harmonica in the orchestra. He was forced to play to the crowds walking into the gas chambers every day. After he saw his family go by he always played with eyes shut.’

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.


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