Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: A Hundred Stars

“People are naïve and good-hearted. And probably unhappy.”- Janusz Korczak

He strolled through
sidewalk slush to
collect donations used
to support his children;
they were contributions
needed to prevent his Jews
from being forgotten.
With his daily persistence, he
eagerly received tattered marks
from ghetto inmates without
concern for his reputation; 
this is what King Matthew
would have done.

At night, by the light
of a hundred blue stars glowing
from frayed threads wrapped
around the sleeping children,
he would write in his journal
with a pencil sharpened at both ends.
This was his lull of huddled peace
when he could record,
not yet a Kaddish for his children,
rather a prayer: to be able
to live through another day.
By morning, his smudged plea
had faded from the page.
Ink was precious--
its permanence was reserved
for lists marked by the SS.

Beyond the orphanage,
the only people who knew
the names of his flock
wore swastikas
stamped on their sleeves.
So long as his children
were carried on a clipboard
titled “Treblinka” he would
never let the executioner’s pen
forget the name Korczak.

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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