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CENTOS (Pol. Zwiazki Tow. Opieki nad sierotami Zyd. Rzecz. polskiej; Yid. Farband fun Zentrales far Yesoimim farsorgung in Poylen; "Federation of Associations for the Care of Jewish Orphans in Poland"). It was set up in 1924 as a federation of nine regional committees for (1) Congress Poland (Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, Kielce); (2) Polesie (Pinsk); (3) Volhynia (Rovno); (4) Bialystok; (5) the committee of *Yekopo for the regions of Vilna and Nowogrodek; (6) the city of Vilna (established as a separate committee evidently because of its importance and the scope of its activities); (7) eastern Galicia (Lvov, Stanislav, Tarnopol); (8) western Galicia (Cracow); and (9) the city of Poznan. World War i and the upheavals connected with it created the serious social problem of orphaned children for whose welfare the public felt responsible, both in continuation of ancient Jewish tradition, stressing care of the orphan and widow, and as a result of modern concepts of child care. As the Jewish institutions in the area had been incapacitated by the war, the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee assumed their responsibilities within its general activities. Parentless children were therefore either placed at its expense with families or accommodated in special institutions. With normalization in the early 1920s local Jewry gradually assumed this task. In 1924 the Joint transferred the care of orphans to Centos. Its regional committees administered their activities autonomously, represented on the all-Polish level by its central committee, which also advised on and supervised their work in conjunction with the Joint. In 1926 Centos assumed full responsibility for the enterprise, while the contributions of the Joint gradually diminished. By 1929 the Joint contributed 15% of the general budget only. From 1930 to 1932, the participation of the Joint increased from 22% to 46% due to a special fund-raising campaign to strengthen the existing institutions and widen the scope of vocational training. In 1931 there were 10,000 orphans in the care of Centos, half of them in orphanages, and the other half in the care of foster parents. Much attention was paid to vocational training, from which some 3,000 pupils benefited in special boarding schools. Centos had 327 local committees for 60,000 paying members. The annual budget amounted to 6,000,000 zlotys, the government and municipalities contributing only 25%.

Besides regular medical care, Centos also maintained permanent clinics and convalescence institutions as well as summer camps of various categories. A medical-pedagogical institution for retarded children was also established in Otwock. Centos published two monthlies, Unzer Kind (in Yiddish) and Przegląd Spoteczny (in Polish), which dealt with theoretical and practical problems of child care and Jewish orphans. Theoretically the education of Centos achieved its aims and its pupils graduated successfully. The practical test of their success in life was cut short by intensified antisemitism and the ousting of Jews from the crafts in Poland. The tragic events following Hitler's rise to power in 1933 made Centos direct renewed efforts to solve the problem of needy children who were victims of the pogroms in Poland or refugees from Nazi Germany. From 1934 to 1939, the task of carrying out these activities fell mainly on the local Jewish population, since government support substantially decreased due to antisemitism. In 1938 the activities of Centos embraced 15,000 children, of whom 40% were in the care of families and 60% in orphanages and children's hostels. The majority (55%) were girls who required shelter over a longer period.

From its inception, the organization was presided over by Senator Rafael Szereszewski. The Centos orphanage in Warsaw, directed by the educator Henryk Godschmidt, also known by his pen name Janusz *Korczak, was noted for its humanitarian directorship and enlightened pedagogical experimentation. Korczak accompanied his charges to the extermination camps, and master and pupils met their deaths together in the *Holocaust.


eg, 1 (1953), 577–80; Odbudowa i samopomoc (1931). Add Bibliography: Sprawozdanie Jubileuszowe, Centos Krakow, 1923–1938 (maj 1938); M.Schalith (ed.), Fun Yohr Tsu Yohr (1926); Haynt-Yubiley-Bukh (1908–1928), 77.

[Moshe Landau]

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