‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’
Warsaw, 1940. The Jewish ghetto is under the Nazis’ brutal control. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children slowly starve within the walls.
But while all around is darkness, one man brings hope, caring for the ever-increasing number of destitute orphans in the face of unimaginable conditions.
And, torn apart as the noose tightens around the ghetto, how will one young couple’s love survive the terrible tests of wartime?
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.
Some of the best historical novels are based on true stories, and this is one of them. I knew the facts about Janusz Korczak and have admired both his teaching and his actions, but what I knew was the bare bones. Ms Gifford has conducted intensive research over a number of years to bring Korczak to life for me, and introduce me to other people I knew nothing about. A huge number of the characters in The Good Doctor were real people whose stories told here will touch the heart, a reminder of what is best about humanity; often exhibited in the worst of times.
This novel is well-plotted as it charts the falling fortunes of the Jews in Warsaw and surrounding areas, from wealthy families to inhabitants of an ever-shrinking ghetto. The sights and sounds and smells of their experiences put the reader squarely in this terrible story of hatred, fear and death. The descriptions of starving children, of shootings, round-up’s, and trains to the death camps cannot fail to move you. The Good Doctor Of Warsaw is a window into the darkest soul of man, and as such a reminder of what we can become if we allow ourselves to build our lives on discrimination and hatred.
But the novel is also full of hope as we follow the true stories of Janusz Korczak, Sophia and Misha as they try to provide the love and security so essential to the children in Korczak’s orphanage. These real people were prepared to put their lives on the line for others, as were many non-Jews who could not allow themselves to be a part of Hitler’s Final Solution. Following these characters through the clearing of the ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not easy reading, but it is a book which should be read as both a lesson from the past and a guide for a better future.
Above all The Good Doctor should be read as a memorial to all those who stood up for what was right in the face of so much wrong.
(You can find out a little more about some of the children of the Warsaw Ghetto in my article When Boy Scouts Went To War
The Good Doctor Of Warsaw can be found on Amazon
You can find out more about Elizabeth Gifford here
You can find more of my Recommended Reads here