Monday, April 18, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: Door to Door and Back

“The children are living in constant uncertainty, in fear.” – Janusz Korczak

He slid through the hallway
on the soles of his blistered feet,
ignoring the usual volunteers.
It was the cracks, like veins in
forest green and gray marble,

that reminded the doctor of why
he left every day to collect donations--
like the children the cracks
grew both higher and deeper.

Korczak eased down the stairs.
The reality of the railing was that
each time he leaned on it
for support it became looser--
without reinforcements it would break.

Slightly winded from his descent,
the doctor approached the fragile
Krochmalna Street door and listened.
Once the muffled clicking
of an officer’s shoes passed,
he grasped his thinning coat,
braced himself for the
hypothermic Warsaw winter,
and walked into stinging snow.

Drifts muted his footsteps,
silence enveloped the ghetto--
as soundless as a still clapper.
Not a single ringing coin
echoed in the hush--
each mother had her
own children to sustain.

Cracks in the wall had grown
by the time the doctor returned.
He had nothing to fill them.

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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