Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holocaust Poem of the Day: With His Children

“The world knows nothing of many great Poles.”- Janusz Korczak

Some children high stepped, others
had to be dragged by their armbands,
but most of them, free
from the crucible orphanage walls,
blindly obeyed the doctor.

“They don’t want you, just the children!”

He never replied to the pleading few.
He only broke step twice with his troop--
the first was to make sure the children followed;
the second was to hand a stack of papers
to a coughing soot-haired youth-- the
one child in the crowd that day not being
forced to march. Then, the doctor
resumed his pace as caboose of the line.

The ghetto sea thinned as the
hazy box car opened its doors--
for every child that entered the train,
ten people lost their voices.

When the doctor was the only one left
to walk through the sliding doors,
the solitary thing that could be heard
was the ticking of a pocket watch
lying in the corner of the cattle car.

Tick! Tick! Tick!

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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