Saturday, April 16, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: Sleep

“Loneliness does not hurt. I value memories.” – Janusz Korczak

For the first time,
the doctor fell asleep
while the children
tossed in their cots.

Tonight, he refused to listen
to their muffled moans.
They were his children but
they were not his memories.

Korczak had been in bed
for the past two days.
His mother never strayed
far from the bedroom lintel.
His father stopped in irregularly,
as fathers will do, forcing him
to sit up or walk around
to get the fever out of his system.

On the third day Korczak’s
mind returned from its trip.
Before he could sit up in bed
his father walked into the room,
dropped a set of clothes on his lap
and said, “Get up!
It’s time to go for a walk.”

The doctor could still taste
the soda ice and pineapple juice
when he reached for a piece of paper.
In a blurry half-sleep he wrote:
“I feel old whenever I
reminisce about the past,
the bygone years and events.
I want to be young,
so I make plans for the future.”

He knew they could no longer make plans.

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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