Henryk read avidly as an escape his only escape. The world vanished and only the book remained. His journaling became his novel "Confessions of a Butterfly". The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe exemplifies his youthful romanticism, as that of many of the Polish students. He yearned for the Jews and Poles to be reconciled,but this was never to bear fruit and was product of his idealistic fantasy.Henryk is here portrayed from age 13-16. The narrator is self described as a slav cold natured and puzzled by his attraction to a dark eyed Jewess . He is curious about the mysterious "Jew", the Sphinx of nations.Inner division as part of assimilation: well worded! He made his narrator Polish who saw Jewishness through his eyes. Sex viewed as standing at the abyss. It was dangerous and wet dreams were degrading and undignified. Did he connect syphilis with his father's mental illness? His relationship and love for Stash. Did these feelings of Henryk's give rise to guilt? I do not think they did.
When he was fourteen his grandmother died, and there was no longer anyone
with whom to share those dreams. For a time he sought solace at her grave, which
was next to his grandfather's in the Jewish cemetery. The Jews, like the Poles
regarded the cemetery as a gathering place, almost an extension of their own
home, where one´s loved ones were always available to listen to problems and
often endowed with a wisdom they hadn´t had in life.
Bored by his strict
Russian gymnasium in Praga, a suburb on the right bank of the Vistula (probably
the only school the family could afford by then), reading became his salvation.
" The world vanished, only the book existed. "He began writing a journal, which
he would one day rework into'a novel titled Confessions of a Butterfly: it was a
slim volume with much of the romantic weltschmerz of The Sorrows of Young
Werther, which Henryk, like so many Polish students, had read avidly.
the sorrows and the loves seem to be those of young Henryk Goldszmit from his
thirteenth to his sixteenth year, although the narrator describes himself as a
cold Slav from the North who is puzzled by his attraction to a dark-eyed Jewish
beauty he passes on the street. She rouses his curiosity about the mysterious
Jewish people-the "Sphinx of Nations." But rather than romance, it is
reconciliation that he yearns for. reconciliation between the Poles and the
Jews. Even at that early age it seems that Henryk was beginning to experience
the inner division that was part of the process of assimilation in this Roman
Catholic society. By making his narrator Polish, and viewing Jewishness through
his eyes, he was experimenting with his two identities-Pole and Jew.
Henryk, the narrator has to cope not only with a mentally unstable father but
also with strange and confusing sexual stirrings. He has erections and wet
dreams that "degrade" his dignity as a man, and fears for his own sanity because
masturbating was believed to cause madness. Reassured by his doctor that
masturbation is not a disease, only a shortcoming, he is warned to avoid it, as
well as everything else that might overstimulate him-"nicotine, alcohol,
daydreams, and prostitutes, eighty percent of whom are infected." (Retaining his
belief in the harmfulness of masturbation, Korczak would write about his efforts
to break the boys in his orphanage of the habit. " If you overcome nature, you
overcome yourself, " he told them.)
The narrator resolves to work on
controlling himself, but cannot save a friend who has "succumbed" to a servant
girl. " I can boldly say he is standing at the edge of an abyss. " (It may be
that Henryk connected sex, which was "dangerous, unhealthy, and undignified,"
with his father´s condition. A part of him may have suspected that the illness
might be syphilis: the disease was rampant then and known to affect the brain.)
There is one person, a boy his own age named Stash, toward whom he feels "
not friendship but a kind oflove one can feel only toward girls. " Stash has a
girlish delicacy because of a heart ailment. He puts his arm around Stash's
shoulder during recess; holds his hand as they walk about the city. Watching a
sunset together" they both have tears in their eyes. " Why can´t one exchange
tears like wedding rings? . . . Our souls were joined together in silence. There
were no candles burnm . g before the altar, only the sun. No priest to bless us,
only the sky. No wedding guests to give us hypocritical congratulations, only
the fir, birch, and oak trees. No organs playing, only the wind. . . . I
experienced the most beautiful hour of my life. Why did I want to cry? " In his
Ghetto Diary Korczak would recall the strong feelings he had for this boy. ."
Fourteen . . . friendship (love) for Stash. "