Friday, April 22, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: The Assistant’s Diary: August 4th, 1942

“For in the hour of reckoning I am not inside a solitary cell of the saddest hospital in the world but surrounded by butterflies and grasshoppers, and I can hear a concert of crickets and a soloist high up in the sky- the skylark.” – Janusz Korczak

The doctor has been writing fewer pages
as the calendar has pared its months.
What was once an opus of aspirations
has become a ghetto diary--
recording occurrences of the day.

His thoughts are becoming weak.
The eloquent script used to pen
A Child’s Right to Respect
is now a collection of
abandoned words-- he knows
his energy can no longer
be wasted on literary devices.

I see the doctor has finished for tonight.
I hope to get them done quickly
so I may also sleep.

Amidst the children’s
cacophony of coughs,
the typewriter keys popped
with every staggered finger stroke
like moist maple wood in a flame.

These are the last words
the ink embossed on the page:

“I am watering the flowers. My bald head in the window. What a splendid target.
“He has a rifle. Why is he standing and looking on calmly?
“He has no orders to shoot.
“And perhaps he was a village teacher in civilian life, or a notary, a street sweeper in Leipzig, a waiter in Cologne?
“What would he do if I nodded to him? Waved my hand in a friendly gesture?
“Perhaps he doesn’t even know that things are- as they are?
“He may have arrived only yesterday, from far away…”

About Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak was an elderly doctor who cared for countless children at an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Born Henryk Goldzmit in 1878, Korczak first made a name for himself in Poland as a pediatrician, writer, and children’s rights advocate. Korczak would later change his name to shield himself from the growing anti-Semitism of the time. He wrote autobiographical novels at the turn of the century as well as founding the first children’s newspaper, The Little Review, and he had a radio program as “the Old Doctor.” Later, he gave up his medical practice to establish the first progressive orphanages in Warsaw. From that point until the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Korczak wrote about children and for children. Korczak was 64 when he began writing Ghetto Diary (Yale University Press: New Haven (CT), 2003). Refusing numerous attempts at freedom, Korczak died with his children at Treblinka.

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