The Good Doctor of Warsaw

Written by Elisabeth Gifford
Review by Imogen Varney

This gripping true love story about a young Polish Jewish couple is set in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Misha and Sophia meet at a lecture given by the renowned Dr Korczak, the humanitarian child psychologist who had decided to devote his life to caring for the children of an orphanage in Warsaw. His work and ideas were already hugely respected—he had helped to write the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 1924—but for the Germans occupying the country, his status counts for little. Courageously, he continues to feed and protect his ‘republic of children’, as he calls his ghetto orphanage. His fiercely held principles about respecting the needs of children above all else co-exist with a naivety which leads him to believe the Germans ‘will never let the orphanage be dissolved’. Misha is one of his devoted assistants who works to make the children feel valued and secure.

Against this dramatic historical situation, the love affair between Misha and Sophia is challenged by the constant fear, danger and near starvation which all in the ghetto experience. Their story involves risk and ingenuity, desperate journeys to apparent safety outside Poland and a separation of nearly three years, during which neither can be sure the other has survived.

Elisabeth Gifford has re-imagined real-life events, keeping to the documented facts and faithfully researching the historical background. The result is a moving and well-written account conveying an immediacy and engagement with the central characters, adults and children. An author’s note at the end fills in the post-war lives of the pitifully small band of survivors.