Sunday, April 17, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: Warsaw Epidemic

“I used to write at stops, in a meadow under a pine tree, sitting on a stump. Everything seemed important and if I did not note it down I would forget. An irretrievable loss to humanity.” – Janusz Korczak

The sun peeled the
gray from clouds,
burning their pewter lining.

Mid-day February and
sick students were having
troubled afternoon naps.
Their dry heaves echoed
in the doctor’s ears-- he had
nothing to cure a cough,
no antidote for a fever.
The flu flooded the ghetto
like a forgotten fog.

The children lay tightly
curled in their cots-- they
lay pale, restlessly immobile.
With every turning groan,
their clothes ruffled like wet paper.

Some orphans cried but
nobody made a sound.
Many prayers are silent.

Below the venting glass
panes, standing on the sleet
encrusted sidewalk, soldiers
laughed while slurping soup-
Korczak’s stomach twisted
as he heard uneaten broth
splash and sizzle in the snow.

The fragrant steam slid
through cracked windows;
he listened as his children
sniffed and moaned. He had
no bowls to scrape with
spoons they did not possess.

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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