Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: Chosen Steps

“Whenever the stems of potato plants grew excessively, a heavy roller would be dragged over them to crush them so that the fruit in the ground could ripen better.” – Janusz Korczak

The flowers wilted,
resting on soiled beds--
there was no food
for plant or child.
The children,
chosen by God,
lived on little more
than rotting air.

Most of them had fewer years
than points on their armbands.
They walked deliberately,
like old men, careful
not to leave the gutters.

In the orphanage, they
would press every square
with the same meticulous steps;
cautiously and steadily,
but with a different purpose.

Even absent of leather
to protect their soles;
with every barefoot stride,
their feet refused to blister.

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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